Thursday, Apr 24, 2014
Joyce Minor

Winter is piled high with memories

Published:   |   Updated: May 2, 2013 at 10:18 AM

Watching the television footage of winter storms in the Midwest always takes me back to when I was a kid growing up in Michigan. Storms were dreaded by the adults but celebrated by the young.

To adults storms meant endless shoveling, driving on icy roads, snow tracked into the house, kids catching colds, plumbing freezing up, cars that won't start ... a seemingly endless season of misery and inconvenience.

But to kids, storms were a delight. They brought us days of no school ... snowball fights, snow angels, snow forts, fox and geese, sledding, ice skating ... endless fun. And when we finally got too cold and wet, the fun just moved indoors ... hide and seek, blanket tents, table games, cartoons and old movies on TV ... never a dull moment.

My mom lives in Florida now, but she grew up in the 1930s on a farm in Northern Michigan, about 40 miles from the Straits of Mackinaw where winter is brutal.

Here's what she remembers most:

Waking in her upstairs bedroom, in the same bed with two of her sisters, the air in the room so cold she could see her breath, and hearing her father (my grandfather) loading logs into the downstairs woodstove, the only source of heat in the farmhouse.

Looking out the window to watch her older brothers trudge through thigh-high snow to the barn to do morning chores before school, and later watching them stomp back into the kitchen shaking snow off their coats and gloves.

Helping her mother roll out the dough for biscuits and break the ice off the top of milk kept overnight in the cellar, their only source of refrigeration for food.

Watching her father bundle up in layer upon layer of flannel and sheepskins for the bi-weekly 11-mile drive into town with horses and sleigh, their only source of transportation in winter. He would take along several large milkcans of cream to trade for the groceries the family needed.

Standing at the window most of the afternoon watching for her father's return. It was her job to spy him the minute he turned off the highway a quarter mile away and started up the lane to the farmhouse. If she saw him immediately and alerted Grandma, there was just enough time to put some milk on the stove to scald so her father could have hot cocoa to help warm him when he came in. Sometimes he would be so cold by the time he got home he could barely speak and he literally could not move his hands to unbutton his coat or remove his boots; Mama would have to help him.

By the time I came along, Grandma and Grandpa had moved into town and one of my mother's brothers was living on the family farm. By then they had added indoor plumbing and an electric stove in the kitchen, but the house was still heated with the same woodstove, fueled with logs chopped down right in their own woods.

I remember watching my uncle haul the logs into the woodshed, split them and stack them to the rafters, ready for winter to arrive. I also remember one winter night when we went to bed midst a gentle snowfall and woke to a marshmallow world so deep we opened the back door to a solid wall of snow and had to tunnel our way out.

In Mancelona, Mich., the snow still drifts so deep it's often piled right up to the eaves of the houses, reminding those who live there, and those who are from there, of just how blessed we all are to be buried twice that deep in happy memories ... and the luxury of recalling them here in warm and sunny Florida.


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