The other night, I saw a commercial I can really relate to. Two little
calves are talking to a cow, asking “Grandma, how come you never talk
about where you come from?” And that poor shivering cow remembers
standing in the wind and snow, freezing and miserable. It’s what makes
California cheese so special: happy cows.
Watching the Winter Olympics was enough to make me nostalgic about
snow and wind and cold weather. I remembered my ice skates and the
excitement of the after-school hockey games. And I remember breaking both
ankles and ending my professional hockey career when my father threw my
skates into the trash. He suggested I might be better at some other
Well, maybe I should have taken up skiing or snowboarding. Or maybe
I’d have been a good sledder -- maybe a toboggan. Of course, I am usually
walking around in shorts and a sport shirt as I go through these
cold-weather ruminations and memories of Currier and Ives scenes of
beauty and romance.
It’s almost like homesickness, for a home that never was. When I
recognize the symptoms of the illness, I usually call my brother, who
administers his sure cure for selective remembrance. He reminds me of the
cold that snapped tree limbs and pruned away the more delicate parts of
shrubs and greenery in the area.
I suppose I had forgotten the power failures that we often experienced
during the cold months of the year. We had wood stoves and oil lamps in
our house, so we weren’t badly inconvenienced. The wonderful outfits the
Olympians wore during the games were nothing like what we wore to and
from school and around our neighborhood. We wore layers of clothes to
insulate our skinny bodies against the cold wind. We weren’t very fashion
conscious -- as many sweaters as you could fit under the jacket you were
going to wear was fine. We weren’t label conscious. We just wanted to be
I can still see us sitting at our kitchen table, eating oatmeal, so
padded with sweaters that we looked like two of the three bears in the
nursery story, waiting for Goldilocks.
He reminds me of the year we had the ice storm, and I laugh, because I
had forgotten those ice shoes -- a thick leather sole that was strapped
over your boots like old-fashioned roller skates, but they had roofing
nails punched through, so you were walking on the spikes, giving you more
traction on a slippery surface. Clever, huh? We wore these ice shoes to
school and to the fields. Wherever you wanted to have a steady footing,
you wore your fancy footwear, and hauling ashes qualified for that
In my misty-eyed reverie of sleigh rides and snowmen that never were
(but should have been), he takes me back by speculating on what today’s
child labor laws might say about the way we were conscripted to spread
ashes and cinders all over Main Street. We were met at the front door of
the school with instructions about how this was to be effected. No one
questioned it. We did as we were told.
Snow didn’t seem to bother the adults in our community. The longer it
stayed on the ground, the deeper the water soaked in, making the spring
plantings more successful. They weren’t bothered by the slush and icy
patches, because they had us to clear them away. And then, of course,
there were those of us who managed to make a few dollars whenever the
snow fell by clearing driveways and sidewalks, but it was cold and wet
and made bearable only by the hot chocolate we got when we got home.
I suppose my wife is right when she says “distance lends enchantment
to the view.” Most of us wound up in California because we were tired of
dealing with the snow and ice and terrible driving conditions we had to
struggle with in some other part of the country. We feel a bit guilty
when we complain that we are cold when the temperature is 55 degrees, but
we are happy with our guilt.
When we get all sniffly about “the changing seasons,” it’s time to
drive up to Big Bear or Lake Arrowhead or Mammoth to enjoy winter in
small doses in warm, cozy places.