Winter’s Big Freeze
One year I remember that we all felt the effects of the Polar low that pushed down from the Artic. Temperatures fell like crazy and in some cases they were driven down to a twenty-year low record. While it wasn’t a new thing to be frozen out in Green Bay for the big football game, it was new to some of the other teams from warmer climates. Travel was disrupted with the major snow storm and the subsequent icing, so much of the nation was paralyzed. It was colder in Ohio, I’m told, than it was in Maine during that event. That takes nerve.
Back when I was growing up, before the use of storm windows, central heating, and real insulation, winters could take a real bite out of our personal comfort, especially for little rug rats like me. I remember pushing against others to try and share the heat from a small gas stove that was installed in our living room. Each room had a heater, but none of them had any size and really weren’t much of a help. They simply just never heated the room. A person standing with their back in front of the stove could get temporary relief from the cold if only on one side at a time. I remember turning like a pig on a spit to assure the front got its fair share. That side of my body got very hot, but I worried also about the safety of the gas fumes that was supposed to be sucked up the chimney.
I remember slight head-aches from the gas fumes and the warnings of the dangers of having a cotton robe catch fire if we backed in a little too close to the flames. We were told stories of local ladies who died from severe burns when their nightgowns ignited. Fabrics finally underwent some chemical treatments to make them ‘fire resistant,’ but the new synthetic materials tended to melt if got hot. Melted materials burned the skin, too. Open fireplaces were used in much the same way as our little stoves and the risk of catching fire was there, whether fireplace screens were used or not. So whether gas, wood or coal, fires were necessary to survive, but all had potential risk and could be the source of much sorrow.
As a youngster I often awakened to see that Jack Frost had painted a new design on our thin window panes. Sometimes the ice was thick and lasted until the sun had warmed sufficiently to melt it down. Old Jack had to paint his pictures anew each night. Sometimes, no amount of sun would help because the wind would continue to whip cold arctic air against the uninsulated house. I remember seeing curtains standing straight out when the wind pushed the cold air into the room. Even to have had rolls of plastic tacked up in those days would have helped, but such wasn’t common if it was available at all. Some folks tacked up newsprint to try and cut down on drafts.
The only solution was to dress warmly in long johns, layers of sweaters and even coats and then wrapping up in a blanket. We had those granny-made quilts and afghans. The pile grew heavy at night so it was hard to turn over, or to get up for nature’s calls. Those were cold times, for sure. I remember when I had to go outside and actually found it was warmer outside than inside. What a discouragement.
I don’t remember us purposing to visit anyone, or going to a commercial business, but I did discover that not everyone in town was freezing. It gave me an excuse to visit friends and to hang around a little longer. I was always friendly in those days, in part, because it was useful to have friends with warm houses. I also remember going to school, even if it was officially closed, because the classrooms were warm. I enjoyed sitting and talking with friends when school work was not required. I practiced with band instruments and actually studied my lessons a few times. Whoa!
While I don’t recall any time that the Big Sandy froze over I have seen some old pictures and movies of people my mother’s age ice skating down at the locks. There was snow on the ground and perhaps as many as thirty older kids and young adults that were having a good time on the ice. I was brought up to mistrust the thickness of the ice and know that many people had drowned or frozen when they broke through. Today, I’m grateful for that ‘fear factor’ that was instilled in me. It made me more cautious, for sure.
When I was growing up in Detroit I got to see people ice fishing. They put up their sheds on the ice, usually on a lake, and actually drove their car out to the shed. Some teens drove their dad’s cars out on the frozen lakes and found joy spinning in circles. I was told of a few that went too far out and sank into the water. After that trauma they still had to deal with their parents. I guess some fine old cars are laying on the bottom of some of the lakes.
Regardless of your thoughts on the issue, it’s a little hard to worry about global warming when we hear of such strong, cold messages from the Northern provinces sweeping down the backs of our woolen shirts. Frankly, I prefer tropical solutions where life multiples and the sun is hot. Meanwhile, I think a cup of steaming hot chocolate might be just the thing. Stay warm, my friends!