Whenever my brother Gary and I recall growing up on the farm southeast of Darlington, we refer to it as the "old green farm." That is because the house had some siding that was a green-colored shingle type. It sat up on a hill some distance from the road, and it seemed like the wind blew constantly. The house had no insulation, and the windows allowed air in through the gaps. My parents and sisters slept downstairs where there was one tiny fuel oil stove in the living room. My brother and I slept upstairs on an old bed with a feather mattress, and the only heat up there was what drifted up through a register in the floor.
There were many times when we could see our breath and see snow on the window sill. We heated our pillows on top of the stove before we scurried upstairs and jumped into bed. On many occasions we wore coats, gloves, and sock hats to bed. I felt like I was sleeping in a refrigerator! The strange thing about this though is that we also ran a fan in that upstairs room. The sound of the fan drowned out the noise of the hogs outside lifting up the feeder covers . . . and the noise of some critters that were inside the walls of the house.
On one particularly cold morning when I awoke, I felt something under my back. I drew back the covers and was surprised to see a dead mouse which must have crawled into bed that night to keep warm...and evidently I had laid on it and smashed it. I started to pick it up to dispose of it, but then remembered how much my brother hated mice . . . as much as I hated bats . . . SOOOO . . . I held the mouse by the tail in front of my brother's face, and awakened him by telling him that I had a surprise for him that morning.
I have never seen my little brother get out of bed so fast. He LEAPED out of bed, and ran toward the stairway as I chased him while dangling the dead mouse by the tail . . . and telling him that I would place it down his back. Unfortunately, my brother missed the first step and tumbled down the wooden staircase head over heels, knocking the door open at the bottom. He laid at the foot of the stairs, crying in pain. This of course awakened my Dad, who rushed out to see what was going on. Knowing that I was in deep trouble, I opened the upstairs window and climbed to the very top of the roof, hoping that my Dad would not attempt to catch me up there. It was about 15 degrees that morning as I held on to the lightning rod and prayed for salvation.
How did it turn out, you might ask? Well, I did not receive a spanking, although I certainly deserved it. I guess Dad thought that freezing for a half hour on top of the house was punishment enough. My brother recovered from his fall, but has had back problems for most of his life. And I never tried to scare my brother again by chasing him with a mouse. We both live in nice warm houses today, but we still run a fan at night...and the "old green farm" house burned down a few years ago. My cousin said that was the warmest that house had ever been. Each winter, I lay in bed at night and thank God that I live in a warm house.
There were many other families with similar cold houses back in those days. Everyone just took it for granted that sleeping during the winter was going to be a bone-chilling experience. One of my friends told me that one time, he woke up to find that his pet goldfish were frozen in his small aquarium! Now that's COLD!!!
John "Butch" Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 30 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.