It was a warm, sunny October afternoon one day when I was a kid, and as I walked up the hill of our driveway after getting off the school bus at our Wisconsin dairy farm, I wondered how many more nice days we would have before winter came. I was still wondering about winter when I entered the kitchen a few minutes later. “What did you learn in school today?” asked my mother, who was in the middle of peeling potatoes for supper. Every day Mom asked what I had learned in school, although most of the time I didn’t know how to answer because it didn’t seem like we had really learned anything. Today, though, I had something to tell her. “We learned about Indian Summer,” I said.
My mother paused and looked over at me. “It’s not Indian Summer today.” I frowned. “It’s not?” Mom shook her head. “But our teacher said so.
” “That’s what the weatherman said on television this morning, too. But it’s not Indian Summer,” she replied. “How come?” I asked. “Our teacher told us that it’s Indian Summer when we get a warm, sunny day after it freezes.” My mother shrugged. “Seems like just another nice fall day to me,” she said. “Then what makes it Indian Summer?” Mom paused to select another potato. “We have to get snow first before it’s Indian Summer,” she explained. “Snow?” Even though it was already October, I didn’t figure it would snow for a long time yet. “Does it have to snow a lot?” I asked.
“No. Just a little bit. Then after it melts, and if we have some nice, warm, sunny days, then THAT’s Indian Summer,” Mom said. “How come?” My mother sighed. “Well, I don’t know why, exactly. Except if it’s a warm fall day, how is that any different than any other warm fall day?” I thought about what she’d said for a few moments. “But if we think it’s going to be winter, like when it snows,” she continued, “and then it turns warm and sunny again, then we think it’s more like summer.” Her explanation made quite a bit of sense, but still, if my teacher AND the weatherman said it was Indian Summer… “Did you just make that up?” I asked. “About it not being Indian Summer until after it snows?” “No,” my mother said, “I did not just make it up. That’s what MY mother and father always said.
” My mother's parents, Nils and Inga, were immigrants from Norway who had died long before I was born. “Does Norway have Indian Summer, too?” I asked. My mother shook her head. “Why not?” “No Indians,” she replied. We had learned in school that Native Americans were the first people who lived here. And if they were American, then of course they wouldn’t live in Norway, too. “Did Grandma Inga and Grandpa Nils know any Indians?” I asked. “No,” Mom said, “although there were still a few in this part of Wisconsin when my grandpa first came to live here. Or so I’ve heard.” “Did they call it Indian Summer?” I asked.
“Who?” Mom inquired. “The Indians who were here when your grandpa was around,” I said. My mother shook her head as she finished peeling the last potato. “I wouldn’t have the foggiest notion,” she replied. Later that fall, it snowed a little bit. After the snow melted and the weather turned warm again for a while, I could see what Mom meant about how if it snows, we think it’s going to be winter, but then if the weather turns nice again, it seems more like summer. Nowadays I often hear weather forecasters proclaiming that a sunny, warm, fall day is Indian Summer. I know better, though. If my grandparents — and my mother — believed that snow was a prerequisite for Indian Summer, well — that’s good enough for me.
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