It seems to me that the first measurable snowfall of winter inevitably brings on a bit of nostalgia — you know, that longing to go back to a time long ago or a place far away that brings memories of a happier time. Aiding and abetting this feeling are seasonal songs with words such as: “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas just like the ones we used to know,” and, “ The weather outside is frightful … but since we’ve got no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” Yep, The sight of that white stuff covering everything with a pristine cover sure stirs up memories.
I was born and raised in a small town in the north central part of the state where, if memory serves me correctly, winters were a bit more severe than around here with earlier onset, more snow, and colder temperatures. Of course that impression may be attributed to other factors. For one thing, we had no central heating. We, as lots of folks back then, relied on a single pot-bellied, coal-burning stove in the living room plus whatever heat came from the kitchen stove. That pot-bellied stove sure put out a lot of heat, often glowing cherry red, but it also required a fair amount of tending. We boys had the responsibility of keeping a bucket of coal filled from the supply in our shed. We also had the task of taking out the ashes — but leaving enough so dad could “bank” the fire at bedtime by covering the fiery coals with ashes. This, along with adjusting the stovepipe “damper” which controlled the “draft,” kept the fire “alive” overnight which was important — starting a coal fire took a bit of doing. In the morning, the ashes were “shaken down,” the damper opened, fresh coal suppled, and heat returned. We youngsters slept upstairs in bedrooms that were unheated except for whatever warmth found its way up the stairway. At bedtime mom filled towel wrapped Mason jars with hot water. These impromptu hot water bottles helped warm our beds which were covered with blankets and coverlets. I recall sleeping three to a bed for the shared body warmth.
In the morning the inside of those single pane bedroom windows were frosted over in beautiful patterns with condensed moisture from our breath. We used to say they were Jack Frost paintings but didn’t stick around very long to admire them; we hurried downstairs where it was warm.
Our elementary school was about a 20-minute walk which wasn’t bad during nice weather. In winter, however, with its ice, snow, low temperatures, and wind, that trek could be a bit daunting particularly because we had to go home for lunch as there was no school lunch program back then The one-hour lunch break gave us 20 minutes to get home, another twenty for lunch and warming up, and the final twenty to get back to school — a chilly routine for grade school youngsters.
Only the main thoroughfares were “plowed” so most streets were covered with snow which was often packed down until it became slippery as ice. Cars and trucks therefore were often fitted with “chains” fastened on their tires to avoid slipping and sliding, but pedestrian traffic was a bit of a problem. One solution was to scatter coal ashes on sidewalks and crosswalks which provided a gritty surface that also readily absorbed sunshine and helped thaw that slippery stuff.
Snow covered hilly streets provided great sledding opportunities — and the city sometimes closed one particular street to vehicle traffic thus providing an excellent, long, slope for sledding. Then, too, a pond at one of the parks was monitored by the city to determine when the ice was sufficiently thick to support skaters — and once the city gave its approval, the ice-covered pond became crowded. We never did hear sleigh bells, but our milkman, who delivered milk in a horse-drawn milk wagon, would put bells on his horse’s harness around Christmas time. Kind of a nice sound. Milk came in quart glass bottles with a small, round cardboard lid inserted in the top of the bottle. In winter the milk would often freeze and push its way out of the neck resulting in some inches of frozen cream protruding from the bottle with that little lid stuck on top. Kind of a funny sight.
Winter brought on another challenge — doing the washing. Dryers were unheard of so clothes were hung to dry on outside clothes lines — but inclement winter weather denied that option. As a result, mom dried clothes on portable racks set up in the kitchen and clothes lines strung in the living room — our only two heated rooms. I can still remember dodging around those damp clothes. You know, visiting winter’s nostalgia-land is kinda fun, but the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s nicer to think about those days that it was to live through them.
At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected]