The January Thaw is behind us and the weather has become more seasonal, cold in nature. It really was too early to hope for spring but, still, I couldn’t help but hope for some early global warming. It was not to be but the process reminded me of many winters past.
It seems to me that in my youth winter was much longer and colder than now. Mom used to pile the clothes on my sister and me until we resembled Ralphie’s little brother in The Christmas Story. I never fell and was unable to get up but, although naturally skinny, I must have looked like a very well fed little boy. We had to be dressed warmly since we walked to and from school several times a day - morning, noon and afternoon. The weather was no excuse since dad walked to work most days then as well.
Recreation, in those days, during school, consisted of outdoor games in the snow and cold. Our favorite school time game was Fox and Geese, which we played by the hour on the school grounds. I’d be surprised if anyone much under fifty today even knows what that is.
The evenings were largely spent riding our sleds down North Street or Minerva Street from Ohio Street to Main Street or beyond. We didn’t seem to notice the cold although some evenings were in the below zero range. We rode until we got cold and then disbanded for the night. I suppose we made six or so round trips per evening. It took quite a bit longer to walk back up the hill than it did to slide down it.
I remember my home as always toasty and warm despite its archaic heating system. When coming in from sledding I always removed my boots and heavy clothes and stood over the heavy grate in the floor above the furnace. I soon warmed up. Bedtime was usually welcome as I was tired. My attire was some sort of flannel pajamas and I piled into bed between flannel sheets and under a pile of blankets and comforters. In bed it was warm; out of bed was another matter. In the morning the windows were frequently glazed with a heavy coat of frost.
All those winters of my youth are now blended together so as to be undistinguishable one from another. All, that is, except one when I was a student at the University in Madison. The school year was slightly different then. We had a long Christmas vacation, followed by a couple weeks of class and then final exams. Once your last final had been written you had several days off until the second semester began.
Back in January of 1951, we were in that relaxed period between semesters and our group, being home together once again gathered at the Ernie Ruf residence for an evening of cards and entertainment. About ten o’clock Mr. Ruf, who was the official government weather recorder came in and informed us that it was past thirty-five degrees below zero. The gathering immediately broke up in order to get our vehicles started and warmed up for the short trips home. My best buddy Cosmo had his old Dodge coupe then and it got us where we wanted to go although sometimes under protest. Luckily it started up at once and Cosmo, myself and someone else crowded into the solitary seat and headed out. And I mean out! Cosmo wanted the car warmed up so we headed out the Mineral Point Road. After a mile or two he turned around and came back to town. In those days the antifreeze was primitive. The car easily could have frozen up on the ride but didn’t. We all arrived home safely. I shudder thinking about it now.
That night was the coldest in Darlington’s history. It registered minus forty-nine degrees before morning. That could lead to another story next time.