Saturday, November 2, 2013

An Old-fashioned Winter

Aaah. The winters of my childhood. It seemed that there was snow every day of the season. We lived in a tiny village called Bunker Hill, so named, because it had a long hill, that had two distinct slopes. We lived at the crest of the bottom slope. In those days, the road that travelled up Bunker Hill was only lightly travelled. This was a farm community, and most of those farmers had chores in the evening, followed by an early bedtime so that they could wake up early to do their morning chores. That meant that after 9 pm, the road was deserted.

My dad had been a farmer, but since he was, also, a teacher, school principal and basketball coach, he had given up farming, since there wasn't really enough time to do everything. Since we didn't have morning chores that required us to awaken at 4:00 am, we could stay up a lot later than everyone else. Many snowy evenings, my mom, dad and I would take sleds to the top of Bunker Hill, and slide down. The sled zipped along over the snowy, icy surface of the road and we could coast almost 100 yards beyond the bottom of the hill. The only part I didn't like was the long climb back to the top. I especially didn't like it when the rope for my sled would slip from my mittened hand, and I would see the sled racing backwards to the bottom of the hill.

The best part of the evening was after sledding. We would trudge home cold and stiff, clean the sled runners, and then go inside to get warm. Often my mom and I would make hot cocoa (not to be confused with hot chocolate) and popcorn, or for a very special treat, we would make taffy. I could barely wait for it to cool, so that we could butter our hands, and pull it until it was light, golden and shiny.  The amazing buttery-sweet taste of the taffy was the most delicious taste you can imagine.

Those snowy evenings were even more fun if the forecast was for a long period of snow, followed by blowing and drifting. That meant the wonderful possibility that we might not have school the next day. As the principal of the local elementary school, my dad was responsible for calling bus drivers, at 5:30 am on those snowy mornings, to find out if they thought they would be able to pick up most of the children. After he talked to the bus drivers, he would call the local superintendent, and they would decide whether school would be cancelled. My mother was a teacher, and although she loved to teach, she looked forward to our days at home as much as I did. If we had heard of homeschooling in those days, I think she would have jumped at the chance to try it. My mother and I would sit, with our fingers crossed, and listen to my dad's conversations with the bus drivers. If they said the roads were bad, we giggled. When my dad talked to the superintendent, and we heard him say, "OK, I'll call my teachers." We would scream silently and jump up and down. That meant, "NO SCHOOL!"

My mom and I would grab warm blankets and sit in the living room with the curtains opened. We had a large floodlight outside our house, and in those dark early morning hours, blowing snow flying through that pool of light was so beautiful. When it began to be daylight, we would get dressed and eat our breakfast. I knew that it wouldn't be long before children and teens would be arriving at our door.

About 50 yards behind our house, there was a pond that we shared with our next door neighbors. The father, Roy, was a teacher, too. When the days were cold, Roy would go out in the morning to check the thickness of the ice. If it was thick enough for skaters, he would build a big bonfire. People came from several miles away to skate on our pond. Some would always show up at our door, asking if we had any extra skates. Our family and Roy's family always kept a pretty good collection of skates, so there were usually some that would fit, or almost fit. We would just tell them to add or remove socks until the fit seemed right. We had to keep extra pairs of socks on hand, too.

By 10 am, there might be 3 or 4 skaters on the pond, and by evening, there could be as many as 15. You would think that I would love skating, but it's one of my least favorite things to do. I would skate a few circles around the pond, and then sit by the fire. That was the best part. The fire was huge and Roy had set up large logs all around the fire for skaters to sit on to put on their skates or to rest and get warm. There were always marshmallows to roast, although it's tricky to eat them when you're wearing mittens. A lot of skaters thought it was important to warm the blades of the skates. I have no idea why, but I did spend a lot of time warming the blades of mine. I think it was just exciting to put your feet so close to the fire.
I loved the sounds that I would hear on those dark, cold nights... the fire crackling, the skates skimming across the ice, the shouts and laughter of the skaters. The smokey smell of the bonfire, and the sparks shooting into the air are as clear in my memory as if I were there now.

My brother, Gary, the electronics expert of the neighborhood, decided we should have music while skating. He connected his radio to a P.A. system and ran 150 feet of electrical cord from our house to an area about 10 feet from the frozen pond. There he connected a giant speaker, and we listened to the top rock and roll hits of the day as we skated. If you stood next to the speaker, it was very loud, but most of the sound got lost in that wide open area, so it was hard to hear while skating. No one seemed to mind though. He, also, had big plans to light the ice, and used the same cord to power a floodlight, but as with the speaker, the light only illuminated about 15 feet. Gary was never discouraged. He would just think of another idea to try.

I have often thought of those winter days when I was young. These days it's easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of our schedule and moan about missing appointments and lessons, scraping ice and shoveling snow, high heating bills and chilly toes. We miss the magic of winter.

A snowy winter offers us a lot of opportunities to slow down, to notice sights and sounds and smells that we might otherwise miss.  A hard winter is supposed to be very good for the earth in many ways. It is a time of rest for nature.

We should take advantage of those wintry days. Take time to sit by the window and watch the snow. Walk outside and listen to the crunching sound of your footsteps. If you are outside early on a snowy morning, you can almost hear your heart beating in the complete silence of the white wonderland.

When there is a real, old-fashioned winter, enjoy some old-fashioned pleasures. A soft, warm, blanket, fresh-baked cookies, homemade taffy, hot popcorn, real cocoa. Simple days spent with your children are the days they will remember best. Time, laughter, being together. 

The gifts of winter. Savor them.

And if you happen to think that this is all very nice, but you would still like to skip winter, and go right to spring, take heart! Winter won’t be here forever, and before you know it, you’ll be hearing the birds singing spring songs! All the ice and snow and cold will soon give way to green leaves and warm breezes and sunny skies... maybe.

With warmest thoughts,
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"Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories." ~From the movie 'An Affair to Remember'

"Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home." ~Edith Sitwell

Winter is the season in which people try to keep the house as warm as it was in the summer, when they complained about the heat.”  ~Author Unknown
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Brown Sugar Taffy

2¼ cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1½ cups light corn syrup
4 teaspoons cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup evaporated milk

Combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, vinegar, and salt into a saucepan. Place over low heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add evaporated milk slowly, stirring constantly, so that boiling does not stop. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until syrup reaches 248° F. (firm ball stage).

Remove from heat and pour mixture into a buttered shallow pan or platter. When mixture is cool enough to handle, pick up a small amount of candy with buttered hands and pull until candy is ivory colored and no longer sticky.

If you have never pulled taffy, you should pull it out between your hands until it becomes a thin rope. Then fold the rope over and continue by pulling it again and again until the desired consistency is reached.

Once the candy is ivory colored and no longer sticky, twist the strip and place on a piece of waxed paper or a cutting board. Cut, with scissors or a sharp knife, into 1 inch pieces. Wrap in waxed paper and store in a covered container.


  1. I am reading this on our first snowy morning in Wooster. Thanks for the lovely thoughts about winter. :)

    B. Yoder

    1. The perfect morning to read this, Barbara! Hope you and your family enjoy the lovely winter weather together!