Saturday, January 8, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History - Winter

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog has developed this year-long series of weekly subjects to promote regular blog updates and provide interesting ideas for discussion.  This is at least her third such series.  Amy is a trained librarian and semi-professional blogger.  You should check out her site!

Week 2: Winter. What was winter like where and when you grew up? Describe not only the climate, but how the season influenced your activities, food choices, etc.

This challenge runs from Saturday, January 8, 2011 through Friday, January 14, 2011.

I was born and raised in Minnesota, so winter has always had a significant impact in my life.  My early years bring back memories of  heavy snowfalls in the 70's except 1976/77 when it was bitterly cold (I remember -40 readings several times, and stretches of weeks when it never got above zero!) but we got very little snow all winter.  Most years were more moderate, though in Minnesota more moderate still means some times below zero and months below freezing. 

I was always a short kid growing up, so I recall snowbanks taller than me most years, and some years wondering where we would put any additional snow if it came.  We kids used to head for the nearest cleared parking lot to tunnel into the enormous piles of snow to make snow forts.  I remember one year one guy was digging down into the fort from above, and fell headfirst into his own unfinished hole and got stuck!  We had to get an adult to help us get him out.

In addition to snow forts, there were frequent trips to the sledding hills around town, both alone and accompanied by adults depending on if it was far enough away to need a ride.  Back in those days, if it was close enough to walk there, we didn't need adult supervision.  In fact, most times we went where we wanted, just had to be home for supper.  Sledding was a lot more fun when I had less body mass to haul back up the hill, and the energy of youth to propel me!  We spent hours going up and down the hills, which quickly packed down and turned icy for even more speed.  After a while they would form dips and bumps, which would unexpectedly launch a sled airborne to land with a heavy THUMP!  And once in a while someone would get the wind knocked out of them, or swerve into a tree.  We never had helmets, and the injuries were rarely more than a bruise.  We usually got back home to a steaming mug of hot chocolate to warm us back up!

Ice skating was another popular activity.  Several of the city parks had skating rinks made each year, and the "lake" downtown was cleared of snow and lighted for skating.  Crowds of people would put on skates and zip across the ice or set up impromptu hockey games.  These days, they clear a small portion of the "lake", and I rarely see more than a dozen people there.  I'm not sure why that activity has gone into decline, as hockey is still popular.  I do remember being alternatively frozen so bad my toes hurt, then roasted in the warming house, only to go back out until frozen again.  I usually wore a full snow suit, which became a problem when I would inevitably have to use the bathroom at some point during the outing...

Skiing was popular, both downhill and cross-country.  The first time I went downhill skiing I was about 8 years old.  There's a ski "resort" about half an hour away that has a chalet, several lines of lifts or tow ropes, and rents out equipment.  I remember having some trouble learning how to use the tow ropes and bars without being dumped or having my mitten yanked off.  We didn't have a lot of extra money when I was young, so I never went enough to get good at skiing, but I did enjoy the few times I went.  The only times I got to try cross-country skiing were in high school, where it was a unit in Phy Ed class.  It was better than a lot of Phy Ed activities, but still not something I was very excited about.

Back in those days, Christmas didn't start until after Thanksgiving.  The city put up decorations on the downtown light poles, which meant Christmas was getting close!  But they did that the weekend after Thanksgiving, and stores never put out Christmas advertising or decorations until then.  My family had a mix of real and artificial Christmas trees, but mostly artificial.  There was always the concern of fire with real trees as they would dry out, and the lights used back then were the big, hot incandescent bulbs that would burn your fingers if you touched them!  The cool LED lights now are much safer as well as more energy efficient.  We never had a big yard display outside, but a few people did, and we drove around to look at the lights some years.  Now you drive anywhere and so many people have ridiculous amounts of lights and stuff out, it's not as special as those few who did it back in the day.

I'm now in my mid-40's, so I'm sure some of you reading are older than me.  How was your winter different from mine, aside from having to walk to school barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways?   Let me know in the comments below!