Ice and snow? Outside we go!
This month’s bitter cold weather makes me remember that there was nothing like freezing temperatures, or a good blizzard, to bring a smile to a child’s face in the Sixties. All it took was a glance out the window, and if kids saw ice and snow, we were headed outside to see what glorious adventures we could find.
Our parents were glad to see us go outside; with no thought, whatsoever, of the wind-chill factor.
My brother would pull on his rubber five-buckle arctics and leather hat, with the flaps that covered his ears. I would pull on my red rubber boots, and zip up the big metal zipper that went up the front of the boots. Around my head, I would wrap a heavy babushka, or scarf.
If the snow was deep enough, and just the right kind, we could cut square blocks out with a flat coal shovel, stack them on one another, and build an igloo.
If it was “snowman snow,” there may have been snowmen to roll and build, or snow angels to make. Snow angels were made by lying down carefully in the pristine snow, fanning out your arms and legs repeatedly, and jogging your head up and down a few times — to make sure that your angel had a deep enough indentation for a proper head. Then, ever so carefully, standing up, making sure you did not destroy your artwork.
If any other kids were around, there was Fox and Geese to play. That was a game of tag played on paths, tramped in the snow, in the shape of a wagon wheel.
Or, maybe, it was a sled-riding snow. If you were lucky, you had a Lightning Glider sled with real steering. Or, if not, you used whatever you had, like a large pot lid. My husband likes to tell the story of a group of young boys using an old car hood to sail down a giant hill, which had been cleared out for a power line. There was no steering that car hood, for sure. Quite dangerous — don’t try it. But then, who could find an old abandoned car hood to use for sledding these days, anyhow?
I loved to use a sturdy cardboard box, with one end pushed out, for sled riding. I would walk up to the back tracks behind the house, carrying my cardboard box, and go to the place where the track bed dropped off to almost a 90-degree hill. I would sit in that cardboard box, feet sticking out the broken end, and hold on for dear life to the side flaps, as I catapulted down the steep hill.
Another great thing about freezing temperatures was that it brought the pond ice. On winter weekends when the air was frigid, I would peek out our living room window, pull back the sheer curtain, and watch while dozens of teenage guys from Clarence and Snow Shoe walked up Number 10 Mine Road.
Their destination was the Duck Pond, a very large pond that was about a mile past my house, through the coal strippins’. Every Saturday and Sunday, when the ice was thick enough, the boys met up for ice hockey games, which lasted long into the night.
The boys would build fires on both sides of the pond, using branches and logs from nearby trees, for fuel. Or maybe old tires, if they had any. Everyone would bring a can of soup — it didn’t matter what kind — and dump its contents into an old metal milking bucket. Then they hung the bucket above the fire to cook, with a lid of tin foil to prevent the wood ashes from getting into the soup.
Some of the empty soup cans got used for hockey pucks. The other tin cans had their labels peeled off and were used as make-shift cups to be dipped into the hot soup. Taking a break from their hockey game, the boys would sit around the fire on logs, drink their hot soup — and be warmed on both the inside and the outside.
And there were no store-bought hockey sticks for that crew. They used L-shaped tree limbs, with the bark shaved off, using their pocket knife or a hatchet. And if their stick broke during the fierce play on the ice, they just tromped into the nearby woods and looked for another one.
I skated on the Duck Pond many times as a child, but never at night, and never when the hockey games were going on. Ice hockey was a no-girls-allowed thing.
Although I now hate to be cold, the pond, the fire, and the soup all are happy memories in my mind.
I remember lying prone on the thick, crystal clear ice one winter day, peering down into the pond water. I marveled as I watched the thin, brown vegetation move to and fro, slowly and silently, with the current. Somehow, even at that young age, I realized that there was something much bigger than myself that had orchestrated all of this majesty.
Winter surely produced a fun, magical world for children in the Sixties. But sometimes winter was not so fun, and I will relate the woes of winter in my next column. In the meantime, I hope your childhood memories of wintertime help keep you warm on these cold January days.
Rose Hoover is a freelance writer for The Express. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 814-387-4016.