Fourth Winter in My Affordable House

by Donna Schoenkopf

Of course I knew it was coming.

The whole world had been notified of the enormous winter storm that was going to blanket the entire midwest. And I mean entire.

I was looking forward to the snow. I was looking forward to being snowed in. But I was NOT looking forward to losing my electricity.

Last year, my third winter out here at Chigger Lake, was a doozy. I lost my power. For eight days. And decided, after two days with my dear sister-in-law in her cozy house with warmth and television and hot food and electric lights and hot showers and delightful company, that I would like to see what it would be like to live in a house with no electricity.

I remembered a movie with Robert Taylor that I had seen as a kid. He was a son-of-a-bitch who loved to kill things and this movie was about his lust for blood leading him to shoot an entire herd of buffalo ... dead. But he got his comeuppance. He got caught in a blizzard on that prairie and froze to death. That last picture of him—eyelashes, hair, frozen, his face a blank, dead stare, was maybe the first time I had been utterly horrified. It scared the bejesus out of me.

So, as I said, I wanted to try being really cold. I was not trying to die. I just wanted to see what it felt like to be cold clean down to the bone.

Now, why would a person want to experience something like that? I do not know why I wanted to do it. I guess it was a challenge. Or an ego thing. Or the desire to do something I had never done before.

So my strong and handsome son, who happened to be staying with me at the time, and I agreed that we’d like to experience what the pioneers experienced—life without heat or fire during a snowstorm.

We bundled up, burrito-style, in our blankets and hunkered down. For six days. The only respite we had was when we went for coffee in the mornings at McDonald’s and stayed a little while. We also got in the car with the heater going for a few minutes but I can honestly say that we didn’t get more than a total of an hour and a half of warmth each day.

inside the house

It was an important and painful experience and it left me with a real tense feeling when I hear we are going to have snowy-freezy-cold weather because snowy-freezy-cold weather means you lose your electricity.

But today is the sixth day of snowy-cold weather. (Notice the absence of the word freezy.) It has been glorious. And I have been snowed in for five of those six days.

I cannot tell you how wonderful it has been. But I’ll try.

First of all, my housie is warm. That’s because Peewee built it snug and tight and strong. It is on a concrete foundation. It has a skeleton of steel that is embedded into the concrete. It has metal sides and roof. It sheds water like a duck. It withstands intense Oklahoma winds. It also has wonderful insulation. And it has sliding glass doors the whole length of the south wall. Sixty feet of sliding glass doors. If there is any sun at all, it comes through that glass and Mother Nature gives me warmth. It never gets below 70 degrees if the sun shines, no matter how cold it is outside. Nights are cold, though.

I designed my house with a lot of symmetry. It’s easy to do because the metal skin and the steel ribs of my house are manufactured to standard specifications. You could get them with custom measurements, but it is cheaper to go the standard route so that standardization makes the placement of my three overhead fans symmetrical also. When you walk in the front door the fans are straight down the middle of the house attached to the exposed steel rafters. And slightly off center is the round silver-colored air duct for my heating and air conditioning. When the blower of the heater/air conditioner is on (which is almost always now, because I need maximum air circulation, thank you, Peewee), it feeds the heated (or cooled) air right onto the overhead fans. Voila! A beautifully designed air flow pattern. I had no idea that it would work out so well. I didn’t plan the placement of all those parts for utility, but for aesthetics, but it paid off in spades. Sometimes things work out better than you had ever imagined.

winter debris

So my perfectly heated and gently moving air surrounds me and my plants and my dogs and whatever other living creatures live here in my housie.

Secondly, the beauty of being snowed in, no obligations to the outside world, food in the larder, a quiet blanket of snow outside, is what heaven must be like.

Every morning, that cloud of powdery snow sparkles in the sun. Diamonds everywhere, iridescent and magical. The sun rising through the trees in the east in the early morning comes up sometimes like fire, other times like the palest pink-lavender. The leafless trees are stark and black against the snow, their outlines sharp and clean.

Ducks, sometimes up to twenty of them, sat on my pond, at first clustered together against the blowing snow in a small patch of icy water they’d managed to keep from freezing. Then one or two mallards bravely stepped out across the ice. Little by little the flock swam up against the ice, breaking it up, making curving rivers of water through the frozen pond. They swam around and around until they had a nice big round area of exposed water and hung out happily for a couple of days, diving for I don’t know what, until it was too cold for them and off they flew. South, I suppose.

The pond eventually froze so hard that the dogs could traipse across it with no problem. I see their tracks now crisscrossing through the snow that tops that thick slab of ice.

The dogs are endlessly amusing. Angela Davis, part malamute, adores the winter snow. She nuzzles through the drifts, does running slides across the expanse of smooth white, leaps and twists in the air. Diego joins her, loving it almost as much as she does, in spite of his painful arthritic (I think) hip. They run at full gallop around and around the house and then disappear into the woods, coming back hours later, their muzzles frosted and their coats dusted with ice and snow. They bound into the house, shaking everything off onto the concrete floors.

Besides the two big dogs, I am keeping a black Lab puppy at my house, ’til it warms up. She eats and eats. She drinks tons of water. After three days she is almost house trained. She loves the snow, too, nuzzling it the way Angela Davis does, peeing her way in little yellow spots down the hill. She is a joy of hilarity, sweetness, and innocence. Diego gives her the evil eye, not appreciating her presence in his domain, and Angela Davis, the most valuable, brilliant, wonderful dog EVER, plays with her endlessly, standing between Diego and her, keeping her safe, kissing her mouth, snuggling with her. Everybody should have an Angela Davis. She is worth her weight in gold.

All this merriment plays out before me through the wall of glass I designed for just that purpose. It’s a picture show in real life. It’s why I moved to the country.

The quiet of the land is breathless, peaceful, complete. There is nowhere to go. There is nothing to do but cook in my big open kitchen and eat and write to folks on the computer and watch what’s happening on the other side of the world through my television set.

I am never, ever bored.

dog outside

As I think about how lucky I am and how much this house and land fit me like a glove, I think of Peewee and how he made it all happen, how he encouraged me, and how he gave me good advice, some of which I forgot and some of which I ignored, much to my detriment.

I think about how Peewee is a guy with a heart of gold, generous and kind. I think about how he takes care of people. Nothing is a big deal. It’s all easy. While he was working on my house, he’d tell me stories of the “widow women” he looked out for. One woman has a driveway that washes out regularly and when that happens he brings in a load of gravel and his ’dozer and straightens it all out. For free. Another woman called him because her horse had died and could he please take it away? When he arrived the horse was actually leaning up against the side of the house and when he tied a rope to it to drag it away it fell apart. Peewee asked her how long it had been dead.

“Oh, I don’t know. A while, I guess.”

He’s cleared out and built a beautiful nature walk outside of town for schoolchildren at his own expense. He’s fixed up a parking lot for mentally challenged adults who work for a paper/cardboard recycling place in town. No charge. And day before yesterday on Facebook I read a note from Janice about how Peewee had arrived on her street with his ’dozer and plowed the street clean of snow. For free.

Come on. Ya gotta love the guy.

So thank you, Peewee, for this wonderful snowed-in week. I never knew things could be this good.

Donna Schoenkopf recently retired from teaching at 61st Street School in South Central Los Angeles, and has moved back to Oklahoma, where she spent her teens.


Yup.  Heaven.  What are the blue/red things hanging in the trees?

2011-02-8 by Ann Calhoun

Donna, there’s a naked porcelain lady in your house.

2011-02-8 by Frank

I love PeeWee, too.  There are a lot of guys like him in Pottawatomie & Seminole Counties—fewer (or at lease a little more sparse) in Oklahoma County—but wherever you find them, they are a blessing to all Mankind because when one realizes what great souls(sorry, I know you don’t like that concept)they are, one just wants to be a better person and pass it on. They spread goodness throughout the world, just like ripples on a pond.  The Middle East could use a bunch of PeeWees.  Love your story; Love you.

2011-02-8 by Helen Price

Loved the story. Altho we live now in Costa Rica where it never gets below 50 degrees except at the top of a mountain, I do miss the snow once in a while. I don’t remember many snows in Shawnee, Oklahoma, where I grew up, that stayed on the ground so long and were so deep. The times when snow was deep enough for the sleds to fill up Market Hill and whiz by our house were grand occasions. And to have enough snow to make huge snowmen only happened a few times a year.

Our favorite times in North California with the 3 children were when it was so snowed in we had to stay on the hill and play games for entertainment. No TV, no internet, no interruptions from the outside world. Since we heated entirely by wood and the wood stove was designed so we could also cook on its top, we just lit up the kerosene lanterns and enjoyed being a family. To this day the children tell us they really loved it when we had the time to slow down and be close together with the snow outside.

2011-02-8 by Jeanita Ives

Of course you have a dog named Angela Davis…I love it!

2011-02-8 by Justine

ann, it’s a peace flag that got tangled up in the tree, and frank, it’s not a porcelain lady, it’s a mannikin that joe gave me when i lived across the street from him in san pedro, california.  joe was a display artist for a major department store and he “liberated” it.  it used to sit on top of his chimney on halloween night with a black witch’s hat on her head.  he was going to throw her away when i begged for her(short version of story.) joe died right before christmas.  i miss him a lot.

2011-02-9 by donna

I love the contrast of winter wonderland outside and plumeria, amaryllis, and azalea? inside.  The mannequin really is the belle of the ball!  Really love it!

2011-02-11 by sarah ekedal

How is your car holding up to the snow and salt?  They keep the highways pretty well clear here, and I have taken my Forester to the car wash (including the underbody jet) three times since December to get the salt washed off.  In Southern California we never worried about such things, but here heavily rusted cars are commonplace on the roads.

2011-02-12 by Gary Richard

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