Living in Maple Valley, just southeast of Seattle, Washington, we are generally safe from major weather events. We don't get hurricanes or tornadoes or blizzards. We don't even see much snow; our winters are generally more rain than snow. We've had snow on Christmas Day for 2 out of the past 33 years.
But when we do get a major snowstorm, it's a news event. This past week we've been hit with snowstorms and ice storms, prompting our governor to declare a state of emergency.
"State of Emergency declared as Washington freezes"; digital image, King5 News (http://www.king5.com: accessed 19 Jan 2012)
I'm very grateful to still have power, light and warmth - and a good internet connection! I've been remembering times past, when we've lost power for days at a time, and kept a fire burning in the fireplace while my children did homework by lamplight. We have documented in our photo albums the Inaugural Day storm of 1992, when trees came down in our back yard, and the local grocery stores had generators going until power was restored. In my Christmas letter of 2003 I told of the high winds that hit our area and blew part of the roof off the elementary school: "Steven's school was badly damaged, and was closed for a week for repairs to the roof. His classes are meeting in the gymn until after Christmas break." My children will undoubtedly be telling their children about the "olden days", when they had to do without TV, computers and internet because of severe weather.
In thinking of how my ancestors coped with severe weather, I immediately thought of the great Blizzard of 1888 that hit New York City. Grandma Stoelt's great-grandfather John Christopher Varran and his wife Margaret, both in their 60's, lived in New York City, at 301 S. 121st St.
"New York City Directory", 1888 edition, p.2018, John Varran; digital image, Fold3 (http://www.fold3.com: accessed 19 Jan 2012)
I wonder what their experience was, living through the blizzard. Obviously they survived - although John Varran died just two years later in 1890, Margaret lived until 1918. Did they have a wood or coal stove to warm their home? Did they have enough food? In some ways, looking out at the snow and ice surrounding them was very similar to mine, 124 years later, on the other side of the country.
But most of my ancestors were living in Michigan, and the worst storm there was the Big Blow of November 1913.
"Fierce Storms Sweep Country", Grand Rapids press, November 10, 1913; digital image, GenealogyBank (http://www.genealogybank.com: accessed 19 Jan 2012)
In 1913 my great grandparents Henry and Ruth Chase were living in Bear Lake, Manistee County, just a few miles from Lake Michigan. My great grandparents Percy and Mary Reed lived in Beulah, also close to the Lake Michigan shoreline. Their children, Ruby Chase and Maurice Reed, were attending Michigan State Normal College in Ypsilanti (Ruby) and Michigan Agricultural College (Maurice) in Lansing, but I'm sure they were affected by the storm as well.
As for my maternal great-grandparents, Herbert and Claudia (Thompson) Randall were greatly affected by the storm - they lived in Manistee, right on Lake Michigan, and Herbert worked as a ship's engineer
. Herbert's father Augustus Randall and Claudia's father Stacy Thompson lived in Manistee, as well. As for the Stoelts, my grandfather Arnold Anthony Stoelt was 12 years old and living in Sebewaing, Huron County, with his parents Johan and Catherine (Dorsch) Stoelt. In fact, looking at the dates, I see that Johan Stoelt died just weeks later, on 26 December 1913. So in dealing with the weather
, stocking emergency supplies and coping with power outages and downed trees, we have a lot in common with our ancestors. Today's ice storms are tomorrow's stories ~ just as I tell stories of living through hurricane watches and warnings in Florida in the 1970's, someday my children will be telling their grandchildren about the high winds they experienced in Western Washington, lo these many years ago.
When I was a little girl, living with my family in Cincinnati, we used to drive to Michigan several times a year to visit relatives. My favorite destination was the little village of Beulah, on Crystal Lake, where my Grandma and Grandpa Reed had built a cottage in the 1940's and named it Columbine Cottage for the wildflowers that grew there.
On one of these trips - and I'm not certain if it was before my Grandma Ruby Reed died in 1963, or afterwards - I was given something magical, that delighted my reader's heart. It was a scrapbook that Grandma Ruby had put together of some children's stories about Santa Claus, that were published in ladies' magazines in the 1920's. They were written by Sarah Addington and illustrated by Gertrude Kay.
The stories had been cut out of the magazines and carefully pasted into a homemade scrapbook between stiff cardboard covers. The lined notebook pages are yellowing with age, and the masking tape binding is disintegrating, but the newsprint is as readable as ever. Some of the stories were too large for the page, so my grandmother had taped and glued these sections so that they would fold out and up, just like a pop-up book.
The first story was "There Was a Boy Who Lived on Pudding Lane", subtitled, "A True Account, if Only You Believe it, of the Life and Ways of Santa, Eldest Son of Mr. and Mrs. Claus". In these stories the author seamlessly and believably (at least to an 8-year old girl) interweaves her version of Santa Claus with all the Mother Goose nursery rhymes and stories. This one begins:
Once upon a time in the kingdom of Old King Cole there lived a father and a mother and a fat little boy who always dressed in a bright red suit. The father, whose name was Mr. Claus, was a baker, and he lived on Pudding Lane, between the butcher and the candlestick-maker.
Mr. Claus was really about the best baker in the world. He knew so well how to make little cake puppies with red currant eyes. And he knew so well how to make funny gingerbread Brownies with black raisin eyes. He made great fat loaves of bread, warm and golden and crusty. And he made little plum tarts that a boy could eat up in one gobble, and a girl could eat up in two.
The story goes on to tell how Santa grew up, with his younger brothers (who arrived as two sets of twins and named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and younger sister, how all the children of the village loved Santa because he would give away cookies from his father's bakery, and that he was especially loved by his grandmother, Mother Goose herself. And it tells how Santa saved all the village children from following the Pied Piper by promising to make every child a toy for next Holy Day. It tells how he married Bessie, the candlestick-maker's niece, and how Old King Cole set him up in the North Country with sleighs, reindeer, and a great workshop.
All year long Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus worked to make toys. Santa cut down straight pine and spruce trees. He carved dolls and horses and rabbits out of wood, and Mrs. Claus painted them until her arms ached. He made dolls of sawdust and linen, and Mrs. Claus dressed them in the latest doll styles, in blue and pink silk, with lace on the edge of their bonnets. Santa made a roomful of rocking horses; it seemed that every little boy in the world wanted a rocking horse. And Mrs. Claus made candy until she said she thought she'd turn into candy. Whereupon Santa told her she was sweet enough for that anyway!
And so it is that Santa Claus has come every year since that first Christmas, and will keep on coming - forever.
Citation: Addington, Sarah. "There Was a Boy Who Lived on Pudding Lane. Ladies Home Journal, December 1921, p.12.