February 5, 2010

Weather Outside is Frightful

Special to the Columbia City Post and Mail
Written Jan. 10. 2010

My friend from Fort Wayne called me the other day while driving to Chicago. Her car was being blasted by lake effect snow, ice, and wind, and she was not shaken.

Like most people in northern Indiana, she is a veteran of real winter.

Down here “south of US 40” as we referred to southern Indiana when I was a kid, we do not know how to handle the winter weather. I admit to being somewhat snobby about this having grown where the Snow Plow is a familiar fixture.

We’ve lived on a hilly drive for 13 years and I have yet to see a snowplow on our street. Our driveway goes straight up after a steep curve. And if the street isn’t plowed and refreezes after a snow, we are stuck. Literally. Now granted we don’t see the amount of snow northern Hoosiers do, but we panic with the first flakes falling.

When I was a kid, I did not miss a home basketball game from first grade to twelfth grade. My teacher father often took tickets, and we also made it to most away games, even in severe weather.

When the weather prognosticators here south of US 40 announce an oncoming Frigid Jet Steam, people here go into Doomsday Mode. Our local Wal-Mart was reportedly out of milk, bread, and eggs as our recent 2-inch snow covered the ground. School cancelled Thursday and Friday and the roads were like skating rinks. I know because my husband and I both made it to work on the slick roads.

If I spewed this blasphemy in my local newspaper column, I would immediately be stoned like a character in a Shirley Jackson story.

I am becoming like my grandfather “who stood waiting for the hack in three feet of snow”(circa 1911) and my father “who stood waiting for the bus in three feet of snow” (circa 1941). Oh, the stories they told about Indiana snowfalls, horses pulling out cars on country roads, and the inevitable walk through the ever-deepening drifts of snow.

Like those of my father and grandfather, my northern Indiana childhood had its own special winter memories. My disclaimer here is that the memories of a child in winter are usually joyful because the child is not the one scraping four inches of ice off the old Buick.

While my high school did cancel school for inclement weather, more often than not we went to school in bad weather. The Powers That Be did a good job of plowing the many country roads.

As children do, we listened every treacherous winter morning to “The Finkle Forecast” and WOWO school closings on our Arvin AM kitchen radio. Waiting for a school at the end of the alphabet was torture for a child.

On those cold days we went to school, my brother and I pressed noses against the glass front door waiting for the school bus to come over the hill. Then we made a mad dash out, bundled up like Brother Randy in A Christmas Story, to the end of the lane so the driver wouldn’t drive past.

Our most hilarious memory one winter day is when our mother was substitute teaching at the elementary school. Our beat-up old second car, an ancient Chevy sedan, ran out of gas at the end of our driveway. Mom got on the bus with us, as calmly as if she did it every day. What horror! What a breach of a child’s space!

On those glorious days when school was cancelled, this meant we had Dad at home all to ourselves. We took our Flexible Flyer sled across the highway to a huge hill and the three of us flew down, all on the sled together. We had a few episodes of ending up in the creek, tumbling end over end. It’s amazing that the three of us fit on that small sled.

Before I was nine, we lived “in town.” My brother and I frequently walked to the playground with our sled. In the mid 1960s the playground had a monkey bars, merry-go-round, climbing bars, and large swings. A big hill behind the baseball diamond sloped down into the playground.

My brother and I got on the sled one cold winter day and flew down the hill into the playground area. As the larger child, I was responsible for steering with my feet in clumsy red rubber boots. I didn’t do a good job because we headed directly for the old wooden and metal merry-go-round. My brother was small enough to go under the wooden base. I took a full shot to the forehead and flew off.

The wooden part of the merry-go-round was painted red, and I remember my mother pulling red splinters out of my forehead that day. I’m fairly certain if I repeat myself sometimes, that shot to the head is why. Quoth the raven.