“Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories.”– Anne Bradstreet (Puritan Colonialist, poet, mother of eight, (1612-1672)
When I was growing up, kids were allowed to play outside unsupervised. In fact, it was the norm. Even the expectation. No questions asked. Just the offhand instruction of “Don’t get into trouble,” followed by, “Be home for dinner.”
But of course, we got into trouble. Like the time I cut my hand on a fence running from cops after a friend’s younger brothers threw snowballs at cars, causing them to crash. Pretty stupid. And hey, that’s the kind stuff that kids often do. Not smart, but makes for great memories.
My favorite winter memory though is skitching. Grabbing onto the bumper of a slowly passing car and catching a ride, a free and dangerous slide, for as long as the ice and car would take you. Truth is, this is the kind of thing that can kill you. Or at least, seriously maim you. And — it is fun as hell, especially to a kid.
Honestly, I only did this once. I wish I had done it more but I’ve never been a thrill-seeker and always err on the side of caution, even as a kid. But oh, that one glorious night! New Year’s Eve 1978, when a blizzard brought 8.5” of snow to Chicago. I was with my best friends, Lisa and Margie, and after spending much of the night rescuing cars from snowbanks, we started skitching free rides on their bumpers, laughing hysterically over the thrill. Of course, this is back when cars had real rubber bumpers. I wonder if skitching is the reason these no longer exist. Because the bumpers we have now are useless. But I digress.
Other than this one glorious night of falling snow and skitching on Sunnyside Street, I have no memories of playing in the snow. I only remember shoveling.
The Chicago winter of 1978-79 brought almost ninety inches of snow: 89.7” to be exact. The worst of it was two days in mid-January when twenty inches fell. The city went on complete lockdown for over two weeks. For those of us who had cars parked in garages, there was no way to get out. Alleys were never plowed. Buses stopped running. Schools were closed. Parents couldn’t get to work. We were stuck inside. Cabin fever was all over the news and running rampant in our homes.
That was the year I convinced my mom to buy me a powder blue ski jacket and black puffy ski pants. Not that I would ever ski, but theoretically so I could play in the snow with my friends. But I couldn’t get to my friends. I couldn’t even get past my front door. So, I shoveled.
I shoveled the front steps and then I shoveled the walk up to the house. I shoveled the path to the garage. I even shoveled the roof. The threat of roof damage was real from all that heavy snow, so as the lightest and the smallest in the family, I was sent to the roof to remove it. I shoveled and shoveled and shoveled.
And then, I looked down at all that snow in the back yard and… I jumped. It looked so soft and fluffy. So inviting. The snow asked me to play and I accepted. Only, it tricked me. It wasn’t soft. It was hard and packed and dangerous. I was stuck in its icy embrace. My brother, either grumbling or laughing (I can’t remember which), had to shovel a path to get me out. But hey, that’s the stupid stuff that kids do. And it made for a great memory.
I lived in Idaho for fourteen years, at an elevation of 5,850’. It was beautiful. It reminded me of the small town in Michigan where I was born and spent my summers as a kid. Except for the winters. The winters were rough. So much shoveling of copious amounts of snow. Sandbags in my car to keep from sliding. And too many falls on the ice while walking my dog. I tried to create new fun memories in the snow, but my nose leaked endlessly when cross-country skiing and I post-holed too many times while snowshoeing. Admittedly, part of my desire to leave Blaine County was snow fatigue.
For over two years now, I’ve lived in Tulsa and I love it. It feels like small Midwest city-town, only, in the South, where it is typically warmer. Except this morning it was -8 degrees and we have snow, with more on the way. This is not typical. This is extraordinary. Unprecedented. My little dog, Mazie, is confused each time I open the door. The snow gets stuck in her paws. She doesn’t know where to potty. It’s unsettling. We’ve been inside for a week. I’m warm (enough) and grateful, and – admittedly- I’m a bit stir-crazy.
The places that feel like home are the places where we laughed and played as children. The settings for those good memories – houses, landscapes, weather – become imprinted on us. They nestle into our hearts and psyches. As adults, we long for similarities in our surroundings to make us feel at home.
Winter cold and snow do not feel like home to me. I don’t have enough of those playful memories.
Ah, but for everyone who DID play in the snow as a kid, for everyone who has fond memories of seeing their breath in the air, of bundling up and laughing, of throwing snowballs, crafting snowmen, and making snow angels… may you tap into your inner child and enjoy these spectacular winter days! Go outside and play!
And if you see someone shoveling, maybe you can pull them into your play too. ⛄️❄️
Photos of me from January 1979, family collection. Photo of Chicago alley is courtesy of Brian LoCicero.