All My Ancestors

8 January 2008


In keeping with my plan to respond to other bloggers’ challenges or questions, here’s my response to Miriam Midkiff‘s prompts over at AnceStories2. The theme is winter.

* What has been your attitude toward winter? Is it “the weather outside is frightful” or “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”?

Comparatively, I like winter more than summer because I don’t like to be hot. I don’t dread it and I’m not particularly afraid to drive in wintry weather. Maybe that comes from having grown up in the Texas panhandle where winters could be fierce but not all that long–and there were chores to be done no matter the weather so staying in the house all the time was not an option. (Not that I had to do the chores, but Dad was out there come rain or shine or snow.)

*What are or were your favorite outdoor winter activities? Some ideas to jog your memory include sledding, skiing, skating, snowshoeing, snowball fights, or making snowmen. Where did you go to do these activities? Did you ever have an accident participating in any of the more active sports?

Of course we had to make a snowman when we were kids if we got enough snow to do so. I also remember my brothers and the neighborhood boys making snow forts–we even had them on the playground at school for a few days one winter. We could hardly wait to get out there, install ourselves in our respective forts and let the snowballs fly.

I have never skiied–not too many opportunities in the panhandle, though some of the area families used to travel to Red River or Taos to ski. My winter sports were mainly done in South Dakota at my grandparents’ place. We ice skated on the companion pond to the where we swam in the summer–I loved ice skating even if my ankles weren’t really cooperative. And we nearly always went sledding or tobaggonning. Somewhere in the family archives are some wonderful home movies of us all out on the hills taken about 1953. My dad, who would have been a very young 24 or so, was attempting to go down the hill on a grain scoop. He had the handle out front using is as a steering mechanism. Needless to say, there were lots of accidents on the slopes that day, but it looks like we were having a lot of fun.

*What are or were your favorite indoor winter activities? Did you play board games or cards, listen to the radio or watch TV, do puzzles or needlework, read books and magazines, or write letters, journals, or stories?

I’ve always read, no matter the weather. We didn’t have tv when I was growing up–not that it wasn’t available, but my mother thought it was “not a good influence.” :-) I’m pretty sure it would have been no worse that the attitudes and words that were produced when my brothers and I played a game of Monopoly. But even today, when we get together at Thanksgiving or Christmas, there are card games and/or dominoes going on, and usually a really big jig-saw puzzle set up on a table over to the side.

*What do you remember about winter clothing in your childhood? Do you have any stories to tell about long johns, snow suits or snow pants, a favorite or unfavorite pair of boots? Did you wear a pair of mittens with a string connecting them around your neck?

The main thing this part of the prompt makes me remember is Bill Cosby’s routine on “Idiot Mittens.” I suppose you have to be of a certain age to remember that and smile.

*Did anyone ever make you hats, scarves, mittens or sweaters to wear? Were they knitted or crocheted?

No one in my family knitted or crocheted. I do remember getting this “wonderful” mohair sweater for Christmas about 1967–we’re all standing out in the South Dakota winter sun and snow having our picture made. Everyone’s all bundled up except me–I’m proudly displaying my gold fuzzy sweater and brown stirrup pants. Those were the days!

*What were your favorite winter foods or drinks? Some ideas include soups, stews, casseroles, hot chocolate, tea, or hot buttered rum.

I don’t remember winter food being much different than the rest of the year. After they retired from spending winters in South Dakota and would be at my aunt and uncle’s, my grandmother would make stew that was delicious. The last bite was always a kicker because she inevitably sneaked in a little cayenne pepper, which settled to the bottom. And Grandad would do his popcorn thing, so I guess those are my main memories of winter food.

*How about the cold? Did you ever get frostbite? Did you ever take a dare and stick your tongue on something metal? Was your bedroom cold at night in the winter? How did you stay warm at night…with an electric blanket, a bedwarming pan, or hot potatoes at the foot of your bed under the covers?

I don’t think I ever officially got frostbite, but I think I came close. The year I was in the 6th grade we lived in South Dakota and my brothers and I went to what was essentially a 2 room schoolhouse. Recess was great fun–there was a huge hill by the school and in the spring and fall we often went down that hill inside a tractor tire. In the winter, we used sleds or tobaggons or what were called “flying saucers.”

My bedroom that year was freezing. We lived in apartment above my grandmother’s store and post office. The only heat source was the furnace in the store downstairs. My mother lived in terror of our being in a fire, and, looking back on it, I can understand with that fear. All the bedrooms were in a row on one side of the apartment–I think it might have formerly been a hotel. My room was on the end that had an outside wall. I think I had an electric blanket but I don’t remember for sure. I just remember that I could usually see my breath in that room.

And the real “inconvenience” was that the toilet was downstairs and outside. This was 1963–not really the dark ages, but it certainly was different than what I was used to, having come from the oh, so civilized, Texas panhandle.

The only thing I can remember sticking my tongue on is the orange juice can. In those days, we bought condensed juice in a small frozen can, added 3 cans of water and stirred briskly. But what was there about sticking one’s tongue on that can? It’s almost a rite of passage for people from that era, and I have to admit I did it more than once. So much for “live and learn.”

*What big storms or hard winters do you have memories or stories of?

About 1956 there was a huge blizzard in the panhandle. We have a picture of our little house with a snowdrift up to the eaves.

My most recent memory of a bad storm is the ice storm we’ve just experienced here in Oklahoma City. Our power was out 6 days. Our fine mayor wants to bring an NBA team to the City–I’m wondering how interested they are going to be in coming to a place that has trouble keeping their power on?

*If you live(d) in areas that get little to no snow during the winter, what are or were your winters like? Windy and rainy? Warm or hot? Did you wish for snow, or were you glad you didn’t get any? If it did occasionally snow, did the bad weather shut down your community? Do you remember the first time you saw snow? What did you think of it?

I’ve always lived in a place that gets snow, at least occasionally. Of course, there’s always the hope that the snow will shut down work or school. That happens more here in Oklahoma–I don’t ever remember school being called in South Dakota. I am actually one of those people who can honestly say she walked to school in -20 weather. Granddad would sometimes take Grannie on the tractor to open the store–the mail must go through, y’know. She had to be there, just in case. Plus I think they kind of liked the challenge of it all–Granddad had some sort of heater on his pickup and that was the first vehicle I remember seeing plugged in at the utility pole. They certainly didn’t have a garage, so between the plugged in pickup and the tractor, they could usually get where they needed to go. They lived on gravel roads that Mr. Stuart, the county road caretaker, kept graded with the road-grader he kept at his home.

*Do you remember stories from your parents, grandparents, or other family members or old timers of big storms or hard winters of the past?

I just remember my mom talking about their first winter in South Dakota. Granddad had moved up there thinking he wanted to ranch. My dad and he had spent the summer and fall doing the back-breaking work of putting up fence and then the winter came. Feeding and watering the livestock in those conditions was a bit more than Granddad bargained for, I think. By the time I was a teenager, he was leasing out his pasture land and farming some land he rented from an absentee landlord. There were a couple of horses in the barn that had to be tended to, but that was far easier than having to tend livestock in the pasture.

*Do you have any photos of your ancestors outdoors in the winter, or of their homes or automobiles covered with snow? What about photos of ancestral horses and sleighs?

I talked a little bit about some of the photos earlier. Grannie would send us pictures of the snow in her letters from South Dakota–she was the family photographer. She was the one who shot the movies referenced above. No pictures of ancestral horses and sleighs, though there must have been some of those–I wonder if that’s how the part of the family who lived in Russia in the 1860s-70s got around.

I think there’s something to be said for living in a place that has seasons–sometimes in this part of the country it seems like there are only two–summer and winter, but the change of seasons creates a nice rhythm for life. And I can always use the cold as an excuse to not go out–sort of like I use the heat in the summer time.


2 Responses to “Winter”

  1. We still use idiot mittens with our kids, although I had never heard them called that before. LOL We have heaters built into the engine blocks of our buses so that we can plug them in if it gets really cold. Many of the pickup trucks around here are equipped with them too.

  2. …and we used them when our kids were small. They are definitely a “good thing” for small hands and mittens. Cosby’s riff had one of his friends pulling on one mitten and making the wearer hit himself with the other one. I could never really make that happen but it was an hilarious sketch–on an LP album as I recall.

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