January 16, 2015;
Growing up in Louisa – Winter!
Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn
Now that the brand new year is well underway, it is time for winter to get serious. I recall that even before grade school winter’s winds would howl and the air would bite. The house I lived in on Clay Street was built well before anyone had begun using insulation, so the walls were cold, the windows would frost or even, ice. Each room had a fireplace back then, but no fires were built in them, but they had been outfitted with small gas stoves that would glow red-hot when the gas was turned up. Even then the heat would only radiate out maybe a few feet into the room. A common sight was the adults backed up to the fireplaces in hopes of getting some heat. They would be in pajamas or robes, or even their overcoat, but whatever they wore the backs would get hot, burning them when they moved so the material touched their skin. I learned to do the same thing, but better yet, to snuggle at or between the taller bodies, thus getting some heat from the fire, but as much or more from the taller person next to me.
We had to keep the water dripping in hopes of avoiding a frozen pipe. I was told more than once that if a pipe froze, the water would expand and burst the pipe. They might not even know the pipe was broken until it thawed, then we’d have an unwelcome spray on all the rugs and furniture. In my mind I envisioned the wingback in a large block of ice, and the grown-ups falling when their feet slipped skyward. Maybe I’d already seen too many cartoons, but when the disaster is yours it isn’t nearly as funny.
I remember some really large icicles hanging from the porch roofs, some as wide as five or six inches and as long as a foot or more. They would drop one at a time when the sun hit them, and were something to avoid since they were spear-shaped and sharp. I supposed that they could be dangerous if they stuck you. I remember once when one had already dropped in front of me as I had to leave the house, I looked up to make sure none were left to bushwhack me before I jumped over the threshold. That one time, some of the cold water spilled down and went down my back, going under my collar and sending a chill that survived almost all day. Brrrrrh!
Boys affinity to puddles is well known and documented, but when the water had takes another form, young fellows are still prone to test the obvious. A toe would stretch toward the sheet of ice to see if it was solid, or perhaps merely a skim on top much the same as butter-fat on milk. A crack, or snap would give the warning for a slow and retreat; else, if the ice was firm a mini-playground was found. If five or six feet in length, then a skating rink was an obvious use for the new discovery. No skates were needed, but merely the slick leather of the shoe bottoms sufficed. It would be a run and a slide, then a repeat in the opposite direction. Kids from all around were likely to see the action and join, screaming and laughing all along.
When temperatures got into the seriously low numbers I preferred to pile on the quilts and stay in bed. That was okay for the short-term, but even on the coldest of days life had to go on. If nothing else, the grown-ups would pull me out into the cold air and force me to dress and arise for breakfast. In those days it was not the normal eggs and bacon, or cold cereals but rather a stack of pancakes or waffles. Sometimes hot oatmeal would be served, perhaps with some buttered toast and jelly. The oatmeal made me feel warm even if I wasn’t.
Of course there was time that the north winds would blow in more than icy rain and six or eight inches of snow would blanket the trees, the telephone wires, the yards, roofs, and fences. Sometimes it came gently at night, heavy and wet hanging on the limbs and somehow even making things feel warmer. I suppose in itself it was an insulation when it covered the house. At other times it would blow fiercely and sting your face and burn your hands. I remember not being able to see even across the street because of the white in the air. It would have been easy to find yourself lost, or disoriented if you were making your way somewhere. I’ve heard of farmers during the ‘dust bowl’ days that tied a rope from the house to the barn so they could find their way in the storms. I’m sure that would have been helpful in some of the snow storms I saw when growing up.
When I was thirteen I spent a winter in Detroit. Snow of that magnitude occurred every few days and new snow would pile on old snow until you forgot where the ground was. Indeed, you might not see the ground until April. Somewhere around that time of the year the crocus would break through the layers of frozen matter to add forgotten color to the landscape. It was a sign, no it was a promise of things to come.
Cabin fever was a real thing for me. My favorite sport was baseball but it would be spring before that would be possible. I would oil my catcher’s mitt, pound a baseball into its pocket and bang, bang again until the shape of the stuffing would assume a perfect pocket, ready for springs first pitch. My friends called me “Yogi,” back then. I was a catcher and Yogi was my hero. I had seen him in person a number of times in Detroit. I would go to the park and watch his every move in hopes I could duplicate them. He was five-foot eight inches tall and I was already six-foot, two, so I never looked like Yogi Berra. I never played like him either, but I imagined.
That’s what you do when winter sets in. You dream, you imagine. In doing that you sometimes develop your hopes and you wait for a better day. Today, winter is just a season to me. The house is warm, the vehicles are warm, and the weather is but a nuisance should it be disagreeable. Much of winter where I live is warmer, has fewer snow-storms, but is still a time for dreaming; or, perhaps writing a thought or two. Today I chose to share my thoughts with you.
PS: For those that like murder mysteries I now have two books out on Amazon. You can download them on your tablet, Kindle, laptop or desktop. There’s a way to borrow it for free, or you can chose a very low cost and keep it. I’m editing the third in the series right now and have several others ready to post.
Book One: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00M0TSZDI
Book Two: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00N669XLW