Onward and Upward

classWell, the day has come. I rolled myself out early this morning, dragged down the stairs and dawdled over my fried egg and fried potato until Ma reminded me if I wanted to get on the school bus, I had to ride with them. I sat there, with the new dress and penny loafers on, wondering what on earth I was getting myself into…but I heaved a big sigh and gathered my things together.

We sat on Hank Leach’s steps..we, meaning everyone in Locke’s Mills attending Woodstock High School this year. The big ..and I mean big…yellow bus came up Route 26 and did a big swing toward the Greenwood bridge. This was no Cass Howe van. This was a huge bus and I was not sure if I wanted to get on or not. The driver opened the door and I got on, along with all the others. A girl I had never seen before climbed on the bus, looking a little scared, so I patted the seat next to me and she sat down. Hi, I said, my name is Sandra. What’s yours? She said in a very small voice, “Louise”.  Well she looked as scared as me.

So here we are, pulling into the school yard after driving over the Gore Road, taking a right through Pinhook and to the top of Merryfield Hill and finally to school. It certainly was not like the crow flies, but I saw some country I hadn’t seen and it was kind of fun watching the kids get on the bus and wondering who they were.

The steps are many and they are steep. I follow along behind and hope the kids are going where I am going. Up the stairs and a long hallway..hmm, now I can go to the left or the right, but so many are going to the left and up the stairs, that is where I’ll go. Louise is hanging right beside me. I hope she isn’t trusting my judgment as I have no clue what is going on. Up one flight of stairs, turn, and up another flight of stairs and there is a long hallway with coat hooks. Hmm. Well, off with the jacket and on to the hook and I guess the lunch bag goes on the floor beneath it, if I am seeing correctly down the hallway.

Someone says “study hall” so like I am in the midst of a flock of sheep, I follow into this huge room with a kazillion windows. This is not Locke’s Mills Grammar School. We are freshman and we sit down front. Okay with me. Just give me a seat to sink into. …and that is what I do. The first one I come to, I am in it and Louise is behind me. We change our minds as she is short and I am tall, so she switches to the front seat and I sit behind her. Across from me is a gangly , big boy all stretched out reading a western paperback.

The principal is at the head of the room, Mr. Douglas Thompson and he is making announcements. He says we have 21 new freshman this year and he welcomes us. I want to be sitting on a rock, fishing, somewhere on the banks of Twitchell Pond. There are too many kids and too many things to think about.

Well, this is interesting. I am given my list of subjects and there is biology and algebra. Those are two subjects we never covered in grammar school.

At last it is almost time to go home, after going to our classes and meeting teachers. The English teacher is a Miss French, who hates me. I knew it the minute I entered the room. The other teacher is Mrs. Crockett. Now she taught Ma, and Ma said she is a very nice person and I like her soft voice and how she very seldom raised her voice. Miss French is a totally different story and she should have been married to Mr. Meserve from my 8th grade. This is going to be a long year. I have these things in little boxes in my mind to mull over once I get where it is quiet.

teachersI am not sure I am going to like this place too well. There are some very nice kids in our class, but I am too shy to look around much. It seems as though I have been looking at the floor all day.  I don’t like where our bathroom is located…a trip down two flights of stairs, a short hallway and down more stairs. On the other hand, one could take his time going there and coming back and not have to sit in the study hall looking at windows and being quiet. Everyone needs a break now and then.

I know Ma is going to ask us how we liked our first day. She graduated in 1933 and has many stories to tell. I am not sure what Rex will tell her, but I have a feeling he and I are waiting for the same thing…the announcement when sports will begin!

Thirteen years old and thrust into this big school. There must be over fifty kids in this school.  I hope I make it through!

* Pictured ..the teachers, L-R, Mrs. Annie Crockett, Doug Thompson and Ruth French

Looking back/Moving Forward

CURT SANDRAIt has been a long summer working for Miss Hobbs, but on the other hand, I have seen how other people live and learn a great deal from her.  Although her outward appearance is somewhat deceiving, she must be quite the teacher in Forest Hills, NY because she has taught for years and is well respected from some of the correspondence she receives and comments about to her friends.  During the summer, her friend, Mrs. Goldberg came to visit for several weeks and she was delightful and that made the days go so much faster.

Sometimes I wish Dad still took Curt and me to Greenwood City with him to Wilbur Yates store. That was fun, with Curt at one side of the backseat of the car and I was at the other window. When we saw a bottle, Dad stopped the car and one of us jumped out to retrieve it. Down past the Ames turn, by Tracey’s Flat and down Falls Hills we went. Every time we go down Falls Hills, I think of Ma having to walk home in the dark and cold because our car would not get up that darn curvy hill in the winter after she worked all day at Penley’s Mill !  Dad always pointed out the cattle pound and soon we’d be at Yates filling station, right near the road to Patch Mountain. Dad and Wilbur swapped tales and the latest news while Curt and I cashed in our bottles and picked out our penny candy, which Mr. Yates put in two little brown bags for us.

One day, we were getting into the car for the ride home and I saw someone coming from Patch Mountain. He looked kind of scary and I said, Dad , who’s that? and jumped in as quickly as I could. Dad scoffed and said, oh, he is harmless. That is Benny Wells. He lives by himself up on the mountain. I had heard about him and there was rumblings in the air that he ate rats. I told Dad to hurry up and get out of there. Curt was too busy digging in his candy bag to notice. Dad laughed all the way home because I was scared and heard that he ate rats.

Rex is still trapping. He gets up really early and checks his traps every morning. Dad told him if he was going to trap, that he had to check them because there were some trappers who did not do that every day and it was not right. Then if he caught a muskrat, somewhere and do not ask me where, he took the animal and came back with the hide stretched out on a board. He had to let it dry or something before he packed them off to get his pay. Of course he hung them at the head of the stairs so if I were not careful, I would run my face into a muskrat hide early in the morning and that is no way to come awake. He has a book called “Tips to Trappers” and when he gets teasing me, I tell him to go read his book”Tips to Twappers”. That always gets to him.

My overnight stays with Winnie and Ray Hanscom will come to an end when I start high school. Curt and I  usually go together and we pop corn while Winnie makes fudge for us. How much am I going to have to give up just to get an education. I am beginning to wonder!!

I think Rex is a little nervous, too, but he never appears so. We have been going to our little school for so long and had the same friends for years. Well, anyway, I think I am just about ready. I am not sure about Rex. Ma took me to Norway last week-end and we went in JJ Newberry’s. I am not sure what I am supposed to take, but I got some pens , pencils, notebooks and to top it off, got a pencil box. I don’t know if I am supposed to have one of those or not or if they are just for grammar school. I don’t want to take any chances.

We looked all over the place for a new dress and finally I found a plaid one with a gold chain that hangs from one collar to the other and looks very fancy. I bought some socks and Ma bought a pair of penny loafers for me. I have got to put a penny in each one as I am sure the other girls will do that. Maybe I had better wait and just see.

My whole world is changing and I am not sure I like it that much. But I love to learn so I guess it is the thing to do, but , above all I love to play sports and they have basketball and softball at Woodstock High, so I am looking forward to that. I am now 5’6″ tall and am skinny as a rail( that is what Ma says) so maybe I will get to play on a team.

Today was my last day of work for the summer. When Miss Hobbs gave me my  money, she said, now, Sandra, you are going to high school. If you learn typing, I will rent a typewriter from the Bethel Citizen and next year instead of house work, I will have you do all my correspondence and help me prepare next year’s lessons. Well, that sure made me smile ..to think she wanted me back and to do something I know I will really like to do!

Life is strange…from cleaning the stairs with a ten penny nail to tapping a typewriter. I think I can live with that.

Onward and upward! ( I heard that on the tv last night…)

High Finances and Other Things

gram mMy Gram Martin was my best customer when I came up with another money making scheme. She smiled and reached for her little snap purse and dug out the coins for whatever new product I was peddling at the time.  Of course, now that I am working daily for Miss Hobbs’ there is no time for the door to door selling and probably the neighbors are glad.

You see, Ma and Dad had friends who had a son quite a few years older but who liked comic books. When he was through with them, they were stacked in a pile and while visiting, were given to Ma and Dad to bring home for us. There were all those little ads on the back cover and on a page inside that told of the wonderful prizes one could win if x amount of product was sold.

One product was very attractive to me because of its name. Rosebud Salve. Now who could resist buying something as wonderful as that even sounded?  I asked Ma and she said, well, if you want to try it,  you can, but don’t you order more than five tins. I think she was mentally tallying up how many neighbors I could pester to buy one and then added a couple on for herself. Oh, the day that Johnny Howe, our mail man put those in our mailbox, I was in heaven.  I turned the cap on the tin and the smell of roses just filled the air. BUT, it not only smelled wonderful, but it had a list of wonderful uses as well…it had to be like Cloverine Salve but smelled like roses!!

I took the box of tins and sauntered over the path in the field to Grammy’s so I could get her ideas on the salve. Ma wouldn’t be home from the mill for awhile and Gram would tell me the truth. I took the pretty little tin out and explained it all to Gram. Well, my goodness, she said,smoothing her apron down. I never smelled anything as good as that , except my own roses. She poked at her glasses and sat down in the rocking chair on the porch and read the list of all the wonderful things this salve could cure or help, at least.  I am thinking, Sandra, I should have two of these. I can use one now and have one on hand. Well that was easy.  Why don’t  you go down and see Grace, Gram said,  I bet she would take at least one. At this point, I was getting really excited. Nine year old sales people get excited at a big sale right off the bat.

Grace was watering her flowers in the little nook below her house and she put her hands over her eyes to shield from the sun and said, What have you got there, Sandra?  Well, let me tell you. I went through the same spiel and let her smell the salve and I’ll be darn but she took my hand and into her house we went. Out came her black purse with the big snap on top, and she dropped enough change for another two tins in my  hand. I had sold four out of five of the tins! Ma would be some surprised, that was for sure.

Making sure I thanked her, I went home, peeled potatoes and got everything in order for Ma to come home and then I’d surprise her by showing her the one tin I had left.

Supper on the table; Dad with his coffee and Ma with her tea. Timing was everything. I gave Ma the big news and she was some tickled. She smelled the tin of salve and went to the cupboard and dug out the change for the last tin.  What’s this, Dad said, sipping his coffee? Maybe I’d like a tin of that salve too. You never know when I might need something to put on my hands. They get mighty dry and sometimes a fish hook snags a finger. Ma told him he had better things to do than walk around smelling like a rose bush. I knew Dad was kidding because he was tapping his foot, the way he always does when he is pulling my leg.

Now I could send the money to the company and keep the rest for myself or select a prize. I decided I’d keep t he money and order a guitar from the Sears Roebuck catalog that Gram gave us. You don’t want that, Ma warned. That is a toy guitar and not like your brother’s guitar. You won’t be able to play it. Nothing she said would convince me otherwise, so she made out the order and away it went the next day.

Each day I watched for Johnny Howe and waited for my guitar. Ma was right. What was I thinking? Ma was always right. The “guitar” was maybe a foot and a half long and the strings were plastic and it was plastic and oh, there was all my Rosebud salve profit in that thing. She didn’t say I told you so. She told me to hang it on the attic wall for a decoration. That’s what I did…and I think she knew it would remind me to listen to her next time I wanted to order something sight unseen!

Oh, the way I have earned money through the years. Pitching and treading hay, turning the grindstone for my Uncle Louis, mowing Gram’s lawn ( but I was not allowed to take the dime she offered), picking potato buds off Grampa’s potato plants and that field of potatoes was BIG, peddling the Grit, selling Cloverine salve and Rosebud Salve. I stopped short of selling greeting cards. Ma said enough was enough.

I think she and the neighbors had a secret party the day I started working for Miss Hobbs. All but Grammy Martin…she would buy something right this day if I were to go see her with a tin of anything.

I know my Gram.

Dad’s New Occupation

IMG_1831Well, now that we have the big electrical pole in our side yard like most everyone in Greenwood Center, it only stands to reason that Dad has been talking about getting a television set. Rex and I have gone to Gram Martin’s and watched “Dragnet” and a few other shows, and of course Gram and I yelled at the wrestlers until the Japanese Sumo wrestlers made me have nightmares.

I have been so busy working at Miss Hobbs’ this summer I haven’t paid much attention to what is going on at home, but this week-end I notice that Dad has been sitting in his Morris chair with a lot of loose papers and booklets. He usually is out fishing on Twitchell Pond or at Indian Pond, but the look on his face tells me he is determined to do something. There’s a big black case next to his chair and I am waiting for him to tell me what is in it.

He sees me standing in the doorway and looks up. Muff, I’m studying, he says. What are you studying, I reply and he says, well, it looks to me that everyone has a TV now and sooner or later something is going to be wrong with them and I am going to be ready to fix ’em. We don’t even have a TV, Dad. I know, I know, he says, tapping his foot, and that is going to be remedied this afternoon. I am going to Norway and coming home with a DuMont. They’re supposed to be one of the best.

Well, the thought of our having our own TV is almost too much for me and I go into the kitchen where  Ma is sitting at the kitchen table resting with a cup of tea. Are we going to have a TV for real, Ma? She shifts her weight around in the old wooden kitchen chair from MacDonald’s on Old County Road in Bryant Pond, and says, well that is what your father has said. He has been studying for a couple of months so he can learn how to fix them when they go bad. Well, I know Dad only went to the eighth grade in the little school here in the Center, but he is really smart so I have no doubt he can do it.  That should be interesting, I say to Ma, who raises her eyebrows and says, well, it should be. I think Ma has a couple meanings behind that statement but I am not going to even question that right now.

It is hard getting up on Sunday morning, but I crawl out. Ma is already at the breakfast table and seems pleased that she watched Lawrence Welk on the new TV!  Yup, it is there and Dad has placed a moose ashtray he won at Waterford Fair right on top for decoration. Dad only let Lawrence Welk show go on because he loves polkas and he likes Myron Floren with his accordion.

I don’t know how he will make out fixing other people’s sets, Ma says in a very low voice. I know he can do it, but people are already asking him to come look at theirs. Guess they heard about it at the mill. The car is gone and Dad is nowhere to be seen. I figured he had gone to Ray Langway’s for the Sunday kerosene. Oh, no, Ma says, he has gone to look at a TV and he took his tube tester along and his spare tubes. I can tell she is a little worried that maybe he will come up against something he can’t fix.

Well, no need to worry. A half hour later in pulls Dad, who jumps out and carries his tube tester into the kitchen. There, by gar, he says, that wasn’t bad. I put the tester on there, found the bad tube and replaced it in no time. I can tell he is really proud of himself. Ma is beaming in relief. Do you think you can make out all those State forms each quarter, she asks him. No problem. I can handle that with no sweat, so speaks the victorious television repair man. Don’t give up your mill job, Ma says, as she swings by with a basket of clothes to hang on the line.

Dad grins and says, you know, Muff, some of these people should clean behind their sets. This one had cobwebs in and around the tubes, but the worse was trying not to step in the cat leavings on the floor in the corner. No, I say, you are pulling my leg. He pulls himself up to his full height and says, no, but you don’t say anything because they are your customers. You just go with it.

I really am proud of Dad. I never thought he would want to do anything except work in the mill day after day, year after year. He doesn’t mind the work but now he has something else to fall back on.  I finally get up the courage to ask him …why? He looks at me and says, it will be a lot easier on me fixing television sets than logging it if the mill burns again.

Now there is a smart man.

dads birth cMy Dad’s birthday was yesterday, March 8th. I will never forget his carrying his tube tester and working into the night after working all day at the mill. Many people never paid him and he didn’t dun them for money, saying they probably had other bills to pay. Others thought of him as a friend and never considered that he had his own business. He never complained about the non-payments, but those people were put on the bottom of the list when he had a lot of repair work to do. He was not only smart, but shrewd. I miss him.

My Winter of Discontent

dressWith apologies to John Steinbeck for my subject title, this has been exactly that. I have crawled out of bed every morning to the snow and the cold and the pain. Oh, yes, the pain which started last year in this month when I hit the ice face first by my front steps.  Months of knee and ankle pain ensued along with a quick disappearance of my patience.  I am not a good patient. I don’t want to have any thing deter me from whatever it is that I want to do or places I want to go. So when the snow started falling and the mercury started dropping out of sight, I became a bit more closed in.

Each morning I reached for a cane to get out of bed and do my first few moments of wandering to avoid falling into my bowl of oatmeal.  By January arthritis from an old foot injury ( thank you, Rowe Hill farm) set in and every word my mother or grandmother ever uttered about arthritis came back to me and bounced off every segment of my brain. At the same time, the ankle spoke to the injured knee and said, “Why don’t you join in? It’s fun making her so miserable.” The knee replied, “I think I will” and so the two joined forces. While this seemed to be a good team and was really right up there on the pain scale, the two of them remembered that once upon a time, I had sciatica visit me, and so it issued an invitation to join the team. “Why not?” said Sciatica. “I have nothing else to do this winter except watch the mercury go down.” “That’s when we have the most fun,” replied the Arthritic Duo in unison.

And so it went. Arthritis in my right foot, arthritis in my right knee, sciatica attacking from the rear ( literally) and down the leg…this was a very, very good winter. I managed to find one sunny day without too much pain on the scale to visit my hairdresser. At that point, I looked like someone living in a ditch for six months and think I even scared her.

Well I kept reminding myself, I have friends and there are millions who are suffering such horrible afflictions. I reminded myself of the blessings I have…even tho the two flights of stairs from the split level are hard to manage some days, I can walk, I can see, I can hear and on it went. That did help. Meanwhile, I gulped numerous drinks and fish oil supplements trying to hasten along the healing process . I find that both arthritis and sciatica have minds of their own and there’s no point in trying to hurry either.

So this leads me to the photo of the dress. I got up this morning, noted the -9 on the thermometer and shook my fist at winter. I was a female Henry Fonda in “Golden Pond” when he was determined to catch that elusive fish. I said the same thing..”You old S.O.B. you are not beating me.” I will create something. I marched to my fabric pieces, searched for the brightest, most outlandish colors and designs I could find, threw them on the sewing machine, stitched and threw caution to the winds. I have come to the “I don’t care” mode. I sewed a pocket on upside down. I still continued singing “Galway Bay”. Winter was not going to beat me. This is March. How long can it last? I don’t know…but when I got through sewing my frustration out, I had a dress so loud, so ugly, that not even winter could stand to look at it.

There, you old S.O.B., you can’t beat me down. I have a cane and I fight nasty.

Polishing, Fishing and other Stuff

cloudIt has been one of those days. I think I was tired before I even got to Miss Hobbs’ place this morning.  She dug out the laundry pan–that is what I call it–and I knew this was the day I would be stirring her “unmentionables” on the stove until she deemed them ready for a good rinse. She has been talking about an inventory of her “rec” room, where canoes are stored overhead and all sorts of activity things are stored for the long ago campers. She never talks of the days of Camp Sebowisha and I’ll admit, taking inventories is not my favorite. But no! Today she had another chore in mind. Goodness! Spread out on her dining room table was more silverware than I have ever seen in my life!  At home, there are six people and we have enough  forks, spoons and knives to go around and glad of it! It would be an all day job, if the job was done right, Miss Hobbs’ said, as the cigaret dangled from the edge of her mouth and the ash ready to topple at any given moment.  The polish was in a wide mouth jar and I was given several soft cloths . I polished. I wiped. It WAS an all day job, stopping only for a bite of sandwich and a glass of water at lunch time. I have decided that this is by far one of my least favorite jobs. I admit it was satisfying to see them gleaming in the sunlight through her window.

But now, I am on the down side of the mountain walking home and my hands feel as though they are still gritty from the polishing, even though I scrubbed them well after the final rinse of Miss Hobbs’ “unmentionables.”   Dan Cole’s farm stands out like a beacon to tell me I have only a mile to go.

My mind is constantly turning and thinking and before I know it, I am walking up the driveway. Dad is sitting on the front steps and gives me a wave. Muff, you want to go fishing in a bit? Well, fishing is one of my favorite things to do and since we aren’t playing any baseball on the flat tonight, it seems like a crackerjack thing to plan. Oh, I didn’t mention before that most nights, some folks come down from Locke’s Mills and we get together a bunch to play baseball. That is a lot of fun and you never know who is going to show up or what is going to happen. One night I was playing second base, jumped up to catch a line drive, came down and someone sliding into the base spiked me in my right foot. I think it broke my toe because it is crooked, but after awhile it stopped hurting and seems to be the right size again. Only one person has spikes and no need of him to even wear them in a field, for heaven sakes.

But I am getting ahead of myself again. I want to go fishing and wander into the kitchen to see what Ma and the rest had for supper long before I got home. I finally decide on a hot dog and a big glass of water. The water is always so sweet that comes from Gram’s spring way up in her pasture. Ma looks tired after her day of work and she has finished with the supper dishes and flops into a chair. Are you going fishing with your father, she asks. I think so, I answer, and she says, well don’t stay out too late. You have work again tomorrow and morning comes quick.

I don’t know what she means by staying out too late. Dad has his pole all ready and I see it is his bamboo. He’s been over behind Gram’s barn digging worms, so I guess we are not trolling for brown trout.  It is getting dusky out and Dad hollers in, Muff, are you ready? I have a pole for you and plenty of worms. I know now that we are going to one of his favorite fishing places and one he does not go to very often.

Into the car we jump and soon we are on our way to Greenwood City and park on the side of the road near Hicks Pond.  Horn pouting we will go, Dad says, as we crawl out of the car. He places a pail between us and we get the worms on our hooks and toss out the line. I find a nice rock to sit on and Dad perches in the grass. I am hoping that he will remember that I like to catch horn pout, but I do not like taking them off the hook. I have been “stung” too many times. They are mean little critters and usually we eat perch, trout or bass but once in awhile Dad likes a good mess of horn pout. I guess this is one of those times. 

My alder pole bends over and Dad says you got one, Muff, haul it in. Doesn’t take too long for me to flop it up on shore. Dad looks at me and grins and says, I remember. I’ll get it off for you. With a flick of his hand the fish is off the hook and into the pail.

We have five or six good sized fish now and are thinking of going home. it is very quiet and peaceful here. Over to the right , we can see lights from farm houses on Patch Mountain and I tell Dad this would not be a bad place to live. He grunts that it is close enough so we can drive anytime we want to come and adds it is time for us to load up and go home.  I can hear an owl hoot way off in the forest and other night  sounds. I ask Dad if it is true there are lots of snakes around Hicks Pond and Mud Pond. He says it is best not to even think about such a thing. Well, I wouldn’t if I were not deathly afraid of them and it IS dark after all.

We pull into the driveway and Dad says he will put the pail of fish in the brook water and will clean them when he gets home from work tomorrow. They will stay fresh in the flowing water. He knows I clean perch and such, but will not touch the horn pout. He promises me when I get home from Miss Hobbs’ tomorrow night, there will be one fried up crisp for me.

Well I declare, that will be something to think about while I clean the stair corners with my ten penny nail and rags tomorrow.  Life is good.

Long Ago Winters

carWinters were harsh, long and cold in the Maine mountains back in the Forties and Fifties. I knew it was upon us when I awoke to find frost on the nails hanging through the roof over my attic bed. I groaned, wrapped the blankets around me, all the time knowing I had to jump out, dress quickly, race down the stairs and find the warm wood stove Ma had lit a short time before. The coffee water was warm and she tried to warm the kitchen.

Dad parked his 1938 Chevvy by the road, because we sat so far back that it would have taken forever to shovel the driveway. My brothers managed to shovel a walkable path from the house to the road, so Dad could haul his bag of blocks from  the mill for our “fire-starters.”

The snowbanks were high around our house and we spent hours making snow forts and once in awhile, a snow man. We preferred digging tunnels! 

When the mercury dipped to below zero, we waited until the last minute to run to the road and board Cass Howe’s school bus to Locke’s Mills. Sometimes we did a little dance as our feet got cold waiting for him to turn at Gram Martin’s and come back for us.  The lowest temperature I can remember Dad saying was 47 below somewhere in Pinhook.  That was unusual for sure.

Uncle Louis shoveled Gram’s driveway next door, which really was a hill. He cut the snow as if it were a wedding cake and not a crumb of snow was left in the driveway when he was through. He prided himself on his neatness and everything had to be “just so”. Well, that is what Dad said.  Dad didn’t really care as long as his boots could navigate a path.

The fun part of winter, no matter how cold, was sliding down the pasture hill on moonlight nights. Oh, we would go way up in Gram’s pasture, get a running start and belly flop on the sled and away we would go clear to the main road. I could see her peeking out the window sometimes when we hauled the sleds back up for another run and we’d wave and she’d wave back. We would slide til Ma came to the door and yelled, “Time to come in.” We dragged our sleds, stood them up in the snow bank near the front door, stomped our feet and went into the kitchen. The wet mittens went on the side of the stove to dry ..and what a smell!!

We had one bad time during winter when it came to our skiing and sliding. Tink and Rex were out skiing one day and left their skis outside the front door. Well, the next morning, Ma and Dad went to work in the dark. Dad went out the front door and he stepped on one of the skis and away he went, lunch bucket in hand and cursing at the top of his lungs. Ma went to the door way just as he picked himself up. He grabbed the skis and tossed them into the woods, dug around for his lunch box and got into the car to warm it up for Ma. The boys knew what they had done and never asked about the skis and Dad never said a word. They found them under a pine tree at the edge of the woods when the snow melted that year.

Without skis, we turned to skating. Twitchell Pond was nice and solid, but we never went near until Dad checked it out and he always warned us of “air holes” near brooks running into the pond. That always scared the tar out of me. I could not skate that well anyway, and knew if the ice cracked around me, I would be a goner! All the families around us donated old tires and we had the smelliest bonfire night after night as we skated around the pond. No one complained or thought of the environment then. Gram sometimes watched from her window as we skated around. It was more fun at night than day and I don’t know why.

I usually had to wear my brothers’ leggings to keep my feet warm. They were gray and some had green stripes on top and others red stripes. I guess if people couldn’t see the stripes , it didn’t matter. The buckles on the rubber boots clanged and usually most of them were broken or hanging by the time spring came.  We wore the hat and mittens that Gram Martin knit for us each Christmas and before that holiday, we wore anything we could get our hands on. It was not uncommon to go to school with mis-matched mittens and no one seemed to notice or care. It was a case of keeping warm and nothing else much mattered.

We had to come home from school to a cold house, because of Ma and Dad working in the mill. We had chores and they were to light the wood stove, heat water for coffee, peel potatoes and get them on the stove to cook. Tink lit the stove until I was about eight years old. I had watched him so much that if he wasn’t around, I could do it. Meanwhile, Rex was in back of the house , fighting with the snowy wood, Dad’s bucksaw and a teetering sawhorse. As soon as I got the chores done inside, I went outside and held the wood so the saw blade wouldn’t break. Dad would have had a fit if he came home to find a saw blade ruined. After it was cut up, Rex and I carried it by the armful into the house and filled the wood box. Snow chunks went down the sleeves of our jackets and melted so our wrists were cold and red. We knocked as much snow off the wood as we could, but some was held on there by glue, we figured.

Dad sometimes joined other men and shoveled the drifts at the foot of South Pond that the plows could  not get through.  If we could not get to town for groceries, there was the hind quarter of a deer hung on a railroad spike on the side of the house for food. Dad took his hunting knife, slashed off slabs and Ma popped it in the hot frying pan. None of us starved, none of us died of the cold, none of us suffered frost bite, but on the other hand, no one ever said their favorite season was winter.

It is nice to remember that although we were constantly cold, we found enough entertainment through skiing, sledding and skating to offset the hardships of shoveling and outdoor chores. 

It would be nice to go back in time and have one more skate around Twitchell Pond.

DadThis is my Dad with his “fire-starters”. I took this picture when I was 10 years old with a Kodak Brownie camera.