Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Before there was radar, there were groundhogs

Our good friends Helen and Floyd Vemer lived on Vemer’s Ford Road before a flood washed out the place where people would "ford" Cedar Creek to visit relatives in Callaway County.

Ford, with a capital "F," referred to a simple, reliable old vehicle that replaced horses and buggies on local farms.

The Vemers lived miles from doctors, churches, grocery stores and mail delivery as young married couples in the 19th century, and being able to survive was partly a matter of understanding and predicting weather changes. That was true of farmers everywhere. When we listed things that might change the world in this new century, did anyone list "Learn to control the weather"?

Animals gave clues to our pioneers that helped predict weather conditions. Calves romped in the pastures, kicking their heels high, and chickens sat in the sun picking themselves. Woolly worms suddenly appeared with different stripes - all wide stripes some years, narrow in others and sometimes with almost no stripe at all. Groundhogs - any groundhog, not just the one in Pennsylvania -hibernated in winter and came out of their hiding places in spring. Perhaps like bluebirds and honeybees, they came out to defecate and then went back into the cozy, clean nest to finish the nap.

People in the Vemers’ day were just as intelligent as modern scientists - how else could we have modern scientists? Farmers had to be intelligent and curious. They had to have loved, worshiped, studied and lived in the world around them. Weather and extremes of weather were of particular interest because the farmers’ very existence depended on the sun and rain.

Today, we plan a holiday celebration and make a grocery list with no thought of how bread, fresh fruit, turkeys, sage, oysters, salt, sugar, cranberries, ice cream and fresh flowers got to our favorite store all at the same time in the dead of winter. In the Vemers’ day, weather was extremely important in producing, transporting and preserving those items.

People learned from watching the sky and observing the actions of animals and plants. They shared their knowledge. Then came the free almanac with forecasts for months ahead. Farmers referred to the almanac or to "what Pap said" before planting and harvesting in order to predict the weather as nearly as possible.

Many farmers planted and harvested by phases of the moon; others relied on the actions of animals to determine how much more winter weather they’d have to endure.

They had no Doppler forecasts, but they had the shoe factory’s whistle, which could be heard for a radius of several miles. The rural world was not noisy, and men stopped their horses in the field and women went outdoors at noon to hear the signals in "longs and shorts" indicating fair, warmer, stormy, clear, rain, snow and colder - and other. That came from the Hamilton-Brown Shoe Factory, which is presently the large building of the Atkins Company at 1119 Wilkes Blvd.

My dad, O.D. Meyers, was a dairyman, and cows had to be milked twice a day regardless of the weather. He smiled when the Vemers said, "Don’t trust March," hoping that it would be the good year. Weather forecasts were also a warning to Chub and me because our jobs were 12 miles away, and bad weather upset the kids’ school bus schedules, too.

It is almost March. Caesar was killed in "the Ides of March," and we remember the Vemers’ warning.

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