Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Winter wonderlands

Back in northern Wisconsin in my youth, the 1950s and 1960s, we'd sometimes get what we called a "January Thaw" - a hint of warmth that wasn't likely to occur again until spring. But more likely, we'd get yet another Arctic blast. Twenty-below, 30-below temperatures made the wisest of us open our closet doors and run a pencil-sized stream of water to keep our pipes from freezing, pile on clothes when we had to go outside, and start the car and let it run for a while in the middle of the night. (In the early-1950s, before gas furnace fuel came to town, I'd hear my Dad in the basement, at 2 in the morning, shoveling coal.)

But, or course, regardless of the temperature, we had to go to work and to school, and my Dad would drive us to school on the way to his job. What was interesting, in the time before radial tires, is that while sitting in the garage overnight, the weight of the car would make the wheels have a flat spot - and the cold would freeze that flat spot solid. So for the first few miles, the tires would go thump, thump, until the friction with the street warmed them up enough to let them be round again.

I also remember the shoveling. You didn't just clear snow - you cleared space to handle the snow to come. I remember, at age 10 or so, lifting shovel-fulls of hardened, wind-blown snow over my head to deposit them atop the huge piles away from the driveway. (How come I don't look like Arnold the Governor?)

Anyway, it has been snowing here for two days. The snow is light, but in 48 hours it adds up. This morning, as I came downstairs, I saw my young neighbor shoveling my sidewalk. But it kept snowing all day, so about 6 p.m. I went out and shoveled my sidewalk, and the walks of my neighbors to the north and south. I still know how!

Wednesday, the snow is supposed to stop. But that night, the temperature is supposed to be 14 below. But hey, I've been there. And I don't need to go outside again for a while. Life is good!

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