Bits and Pieces
Warm memories of thawing out on frosty days
Just when I was prepared to write about what a mild winter we have been having, snow and ice blew into town this weekend. There weren't many people in church Sunday, choosing not to slip and slide on the ice. During the last ice storm I did fall -- good thing I landed on the part of my anatomy that is well padded.
With such mild weather during the first two weeks of January, I began recalling Januarys of the past. This happens when the January "blahs" set in even though I and the rest of us need this down time, or this "ordinary time" as the church calls it, to recoup, to re-energize, to get a little fat, and to spend time doing nothing, especially after the frantic activity of November and December.
Years ago, it seemed that January was always full of snow and cold -- the wind whistled around the corner of the house at night, and it took a long time to get warm under the covers. When I was very young and living only a block from church and two blocks from school, I remember how cold the winter months were.
I remember mornings sitting on the floor getting dressed behind the coal stove right after Dad took out the ashes. It was the warmest place in the house, and after a particularly dreary breakfast of "Malt-O-Meal," Dad would help me tuck my dress into "leggings," which were held up by suspenders. I hated those brown, wide, wool pants, and of course I couldn't wear them during school, as any form of pants on girls was strictly forbidden in the Catholic school I attended. However, they were a comfort, especially when my brother and his friends pelted me with snowballs to and from school.
In later years I remember January being the month of great snowstorms. I also remember walking back and forth to school after we moved to my grandparents' home on the edge of the city. It was about a two-mile hike, and believe me it was brutal. I used to take the shortcut down the railroad tracks, a strictly forbidden but tempting shorter route to school. My friend Glory and I used to climb over the couplings between the cars that often blocked our way to school, which was of course another no-no.
We amused ourselves on those snowy days by reciting from memory the Latin requiem mass we sang as schoolchildren during the weekday masses of remembrance for the deceased when no choir was in attendance. We were so impressed with ourselves, but it was not until high school in Miss Whitby's Latin classes I and II that we had any idea what we were saying.
One particularly cold January I spent the day outside in the snow riding my friend's Shetland pony. Not knowing how terribly cold it was, my mother looked at my face in horror when I finally arrived home and the doctor was called. It seems I had frostbite on my face and ears.
In those days the treatment for frostbite was to be put in a cold room -- kind of like a decompressing chamber for ocean divers. It was cold and lonely in that upstairs bedroom at my grandmother's house. To this day, my ears light up like red Christmas ornaments when I spend too much time in the cold.
In junior high, I often spent the month of January in my grandmother's house on a chair leaning over the floor furnace to keep warm.
I loved those old floor furnaces. There was nothing like that warm blast of heat coming from the furnace as I poured over a copy of "Les Miserables" one Christmas vacation, only looking up in time to watch the sun go down over the frozen lake across the street. The blue and pink of the sunset, strikingly beautiful, emphasized the bitter cold temperature that fell below zero.
Sometimes I ventured over to the lake to try out the new skates I got for Christmas, but my ankles never mastered the technique, and I spent most of my time struggling across the ice on either the inside or the outside of those skates.
One very cold day after Christmas when nothing much was happening and I was about 10, my Aunt Laura asked me to accompany her to a friend's home in Cottonwood Falls. We traveled west on U.S. Highway 50 from Emporia into the Flint Hills, which I thought of as "over the river and through the woods." Aunt Laura always had a new car, and it was fun to be asked to go with her, even though she was a dreadful driver.
Her friend's home proved to be very large and impressive, with a baby grand piano in the living room, and we drank "high tea" from Royal Dalton cups and ate Russell Stover candies from a china plate (neither of which I recognized at the time). I was even allowed to play the piano. "Chopsticks" never sounded so good.
As a teenager, walking back and forth from the library on a snowy Saturday, especially when the flakes were large and wet, provided a perfect setting for the romantic novels I was reading at the time. It was easy to imagine myself as the tragic heroine of Anna Karenina in that snowy far off country of Russia. It was also fun to imagine I was Nancy Drew, solving a mystery by tracing footprints in the snow, although I don't remember one book about Nancy being set in a snowstorm.
I might have added the heroine of "Forever Amber" to my list of imagined heroines, but our local motherly-type librarians turned thumbs down on my choice of that book, thinking it much too racy for someone my age.
The library in the winter was also a perfect place to meet your boyfriend -- accidentally, of course. Many a romance flourished right under the nose of those two librarians who thought we were only students in search of information for term papers as we whispered together in the stacks. Going to the library was also a great excuse to get out of the house on a weeknight.
Much later, when my kids were attending school at Emporia State, I wondered why "The Library" had not been used as a name for one of the student bars in Emporia -- you know, like "The Office." I guess by that time no one needed an excuse to get out of the house.