Columns

Oliver: Big snows always bring back memories of my mother’s ‘bunny suit’

Drifting snow out in the ‘boonies’ often meant getting creative to get things done

When Chicago and the closer suburbs got socked with snow recently, I was reminded of the big snows we used to get when I was kid.

My family lived in a no-man’s-land, unincorporated area between McHenry and Bull Valley in the 1970s and ’80s. Back then, there was nothing but farm fields for miles across the street from us and a cornfield behind us. Our neighbors were at least an acre or two away from us on either side.

That meant that when it snowed and the wind blew, we knew it.

Our gravel driveway was long and, thankfully, didn’t lend itself to being shoveled by hand. Come to think of it, a snowblower wouldn’t have been much good, either.

My father had an all-purpose tractor that had a snowplow attachment for winter and a rototiller attachment for spring. So Dad always managed to get the driveway cleared so that we could get out.

Since it was a gravel driveway, it also meant that come spring we would have to put all the gravel my father had plowed along with the snow back onto the driveway.

My brother and I weren’t absolved of all shoveling duties, either. Not by a long shot.

We had four dogs who were allowed to run around in a pretty good-sized pen that came off the back door. The fencing was about 5 feet high, so none of the dogs would be able to make a break for it.

The problem was that when it would snow a lot, or when the snow would drift a lot, that 5-foot fence became easier for the dogs to clear. And, of course, they would try.

That meant we would have to clear the area near the fence so that the dogs would remain contained. One year the snow was so high that the dogs had what amounted to a tunnel all the way around the pen that Joe and I had cleared for them. The snow was too high for them otherwise.

But my fondest memories of the big snows always come back to my mother. All 5 feet, 2 inches of her.

We had a couple of sheds for our animals; one usually had chickens, and the other had ducks and geese, or goats, or whatever she was trying to raise at the time.

No matter what the weather, the animals had to eat. And my mother wasn’t about to let them go without. Even when the snow had formed drifts that were higher than she was tall.

She would put on what she called her “bunny suit.” It was a blaze orange, insulated jumpsuit that no doubt was meant for hunting. My mother, mind you, never hunted a day in her life, but she did appreciate that this get-up was warm.

She would have a hat on her head, flip up the hood of the “bunny suit” and then wrap her face in a scarf that had black, brown and white stripes. It was quite the look.

In the worst of the snowstorms, she knew that there was no way she was going to be able to walk to the farthest shed. Sadly, we didn’t have snowshoes, which would have helped.

So there my mother was, literally crawling over the top of the snow to get to the shed. She was nothing if not stubborn, so she made it despite the great effort it took.

Not surprisingly, we then had the task of carving out a walkway to each of the sheds so she wouldn’t have to do that again.

As much as I laughed at that “bunny suit” as a kid, I now can appreciate the lengths she went to in order to avoid those biting winds.

And I’ve had a good chuckle at my own expense when I’ve seen some of the outerwear outfits I’ve come up with in order to avoid them today.

But I haven’t resorted to blaze orange … yet.

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.