Sunday, January 6, 2008

Old Man Winter

It is funny that I should be writing this post on the warmest January 6th ever in Chicago. The mercury hit 60 degrees today and broke a 100 year record. Understand that here on the left bank of Lake Michigan this is a big deal. After a very cold winter, people are known to sit out in shorts when the temperature is a mere 50 degrees in April.

Miriam over at AnceStories2: Stories of Me for My Descendants has gotten back into the groove of posting some great prompts for family history blogging, the latest being Week Twenty-Six: Winter.

Some great questions abound so here goes:

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

This has changed and evolved as I have gotten older and as my living/work circumstances have changed. Growing up in the Catskill region of upstate New York we always got socked with snow, sometimes as early as Halloween and as late as Memorial Day. Nowhere near the amount as Buffalo or up in Lewis County where my ancestors were from. Then there were those 20 years in California and I became "reconditioned." Winter there meant heavy monsoon-like rains and if you wanted snow, just drive 3 hours up to Tahoe, take a quick look and drive back home.

Now that I am in Chicago and I work at home, I really don't mind the winter. It has been cold, as low as -36 degrees with wind chill but there is nowhere near as much snow as I grew up with since we are on the left side of Lake Michigan. There is a saying about winter here in Chicago: Many are cold, but few are frozen.

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?

My favorite activity was actually cross-country skiing. We used to do this up on Walnut Mountain in Liberty, New York. My least favorite activity: shoveling snow. Living on the side of a mountain with constant winds meant snow drifts and having to shovel almost every day.

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 was a big reader as a kid and a reader of history at that. I couldn't stand television or music - I just wanted to be alone with my books.

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?

What I remember most are snow pants and boots. We had boots that were hard to get into so my mother had us wear plastic bags around our socks before we put them in the boots. I also remember what a pain it was to put on the winter clothes at school for recess. God bless those teachers - it took 15 minutes to get everyone dressed for a 30 minute recess.

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

My mother crocheted more than knitted and she could make the simple items like scarves but not mittens. Then there was that scary Hippie-style green neon vest she made for me that would put Sonny Bono to shame.

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

Hot buttered rum. Mom would serve it to me and all the neighborhood kids all the time. She called it "Mother's Little Helper."

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 never got frostbite but I do remember two driving trips where we got stranded and had to stay in the car for a few hours waiting for the storm to pass or the snow plows to show up. Luckily we had all the winter supplies we needed.

My one indulgence now: a heated mattress pad with dual controls. When you're hot, you're hot, when you're not, you're not.

What big storms or hard winters do you have memories or stories of? (Those who live in Spokane may have their stories of Ice Storm '96.)

I remember the Great Blizzard of 1977 which hit upstate New York especially Buffalo. In the Catskills we received lots of snow but not as much as Buffalo.

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?

In San Francisco I lived off of Ocean Beach so the rain storms that hit would seem much stronger to me than to friends who lived in other neighborhoods. I remember one January that had 29 days of rain out of 31 days. I felt like I would have webbed feet by the end of the month.

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

My family always talked about the Great Blizzard of 1966 that took place at the end of January. Close to four feet of snow fell and, as my mother said, there were lots of babies born in September/October of 1966.

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 do not have any photos among those that I have scanned, but I have not yet reached the bottom of The Box so who knows - I may find some yet!


Apple said...

I was living in Syracuse in 1977 so the blizzard was more of a news event. My memorable blizzards were '66 & "93.

1966 - Dad had to go out through the roll up garage door to shovel because we couldn't open the front door. The sledding was awesome after the storm! Mom was pregnant so we had phone numbers of everyone in the area that owner a snowmobile.

1993 - We were living in Akron, NY. Too long a story for here so maybe I'll make a post of it but the short version is that John ended up in the hospital and stayed an extra two days until the roads were opened and I could go get him.

Last year was a bit interesting too!

Lee said...

I was the same way with books. Cold weather was just another excuse to read. :-)