The Long Winter

Last night, apropos of nothing much, Younger Daughter asked me Are you sad, Mama?

The fact was: I was a little sad and had been all day, but I thought I’d done an excellent job of hiding it, because that is what mothers are supposed to do. Why do you ask? I asked (cagily).

Because The Long Winter is sitting on the coffee table and you read The Long Winter when you’re sad.

Out of the mouths of babes! This actually happens to be true. I find The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic children’s book, strangely soothing, which I’ve mentioned a couple of times in the past year, here and here.

Although The Long Winter mostly takes place inside a two-room house, the Ingalls are always plucky and resourceful.  Ma makes a delicious pie from green frost-bitten pumpkins.  It’s Laura — of course it is! —  who realizes the teacher and group of schoolchildren trying to make their way from the schoolhouse to town through a worsening blizzard are headed, not toward safety, but for the open prairie. 

Since Madrid’s own Big Snow a month ago, it hasn’t been all that cold, but more days than not it has been rainy. Yesterday, walking out into yet another cloudy, drizzly day, I felt dumbed down and muzzy-headed and muffled, like I’d been tamped down into a little box packed full of cotton batting.

The morning paper had informed me not only that our little health zone once more has the highest number of cases in Madrid but also that the Community of Madrid’s response to that will be to change the number of people who can sit together on a terraza from 4 to 6. In the past few days, a couple of people we know who had COVID back in the spring have gotten it for a second time.

I just felt r e a l l y, r e a l l y tired.

When I came home, I pulled The Long Winter off the shelf. Hadn’t Laura and her family felt something like that?

Laura tried to listen but she felt stupid and numb….She felt that the blizzard must stop before she could do anything, before she could even listen or think, but it would never stop. It had been blowing forever. She was tired. She was tired of the cold and the dark, tired of brown bread and potatoes, tired of twisting hay and grinding wheat, filling the stove and washing dishes and making beds and going to sleep and waking up.

I closed the book and slipped it back on the shelf.

No matter what happens, we’re not in a blizzard that lasted seven months, I comforted myself.


This morning, the sun, as it always eventually will, came out.

Rains might be predicted for later this afternoon. But until then, the sky is a tremulous pale-winter blue and Madrid’s bathed in sunlight and full of the promise: spring’s coming.

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