Friday, February 27, 2015

The Winter and I



Although I was born in New Jersey, we moved tomAtlanta when I was 4 years old, and that became the definitive homeplace of my childhood. I didn't think of myself as a Southerner; even though my father was from Alabama, I identified with the Yankee side of my mother. But the South was where I lived during the most formative years, shaped also by the Great Depression, which had an effect on all those of my generation.
Southern winters were mild then, sweater weather mostly. I would see pictures of snow, ice skaters, kids on sleds, kids building snow men and having snowball fights. It seemed to be related to fairy tales, not quite real. Then, one late winter we had a snowstorm, right there in Atlannta. Our front yard was covered in soft, white snow, like in the picture books....all 2 or 3 inches of  it. Of course we were not prepared for it: no heavy jackets, no boots, no hats or mittens. I think we probably went out init anyway, because school was canceled for a couple of days, and I think if we'd stayed inside our mother would have run away from home.
Another year we had an ice storm, a very scary sort of thing,Mitch warnings of live wires on the streets that would instantly fry you to death. No school, of course. The power was out, too. Before the storm, I had just started reading "Tom Sawyer," and continued to read it by candlelight. Our mother stayed put, even though we were all in the house all day, not allowed outside, last we step on one of those deadly live wires. Those two freakish winter storms were the extent of my experience with winter must be like Up North.
When I was in the middle of seventh grade, my father took a job in Ohio. He left before Christmas, leaving our mother  to do the packing up and buying a new used car and driving it from Atlanta to Springfield, Ohio, with five children, none of whom wanted to leave Atlanta. My older brother had just turned 16, and had just gotten his drver's license. He and Mother picked out a 1934 Dodge sedan, and 5 days after Christmas 1939' we set out for the unknown. We'd never even met anyone from Ohio. This was long before the days of freeways; most  highways were two lane roads.
Everything was fine until we crossed the Ohio River and ran into snow. Neither my mother nor my brother had ever driven in the stuff. I just remember being sure we'd all be killed. In the dark of night, we slid off the road into a snowbank, but didn't die. A kind man pulled us out, and we spent the rest of the night in one of those precursors of the motel, a "tourist cabin," one of a series of little one room wooden shack s with a pot-bellied stove that glowed red but didn't give off enough heat to warm our Southern bones. We safely arrived in Springfield the next day, New Year's Eve.
Arriving in Ohio in the winter gave us plenty of opportunities to experience snow, and plenty of it. We acquired the needed clothing, including ugly galoshes, which closed with snaps and didn't keep our feet warm at all.
The snow was disappointing. In those days, heating with coal furnaces was common, so the lovely looking white stuff had a grimy gray coating the next day. It also developed a crust that would wound your ankles as you sank into it. We lived in half of a double house with a gas street lamp in front of it
that cast a dim and depressing yellow light over the gray snow.
That was my introduction to the reality of snow, and even though it's been over 75 years, and it doesn't get gray from coal dust,  I have never really liked it much, except on nights when the moon is full, shining  on it, and I'm inside, warm, looking out.



1 comment:

Nancy, Near Philadelphia said...

This was a great post, G. Oddly, what really grabbed me was "galoshes." I could instantly picture my father's, with those goofy clamps! I'm with you on not liking the snow except from the warm inside in the night, preferably with a nice pot of soup simmering on the stove. XX