Winters on The Plains in the 1950s and ‘60s were a challenge, to say the least. Anyone of my generation will remember winters back then, for some reason, were a lot rougher than they are today. In my opinion, winters now are nothing compared to back then.
We would get blizzard after blizzard of 14 inches or more on a regular basis. And, they didn’t call off school because of a few snowflakes. Most of us, whether it was Notre Dame School, South Grammar, or St. Francis School, walked. Only kids that lived “in the country” were bussed.
My dad would say – and I relayed that to my children later – “In my days, we walked to school in blizzards, and it was uphill both ways.”
Other challenges also presented themselves. Like snow removal. The city had plows to take care of the streets, but there were not a lot of privateers who plowed driveways. Besides, my dad had four strapping boys, and our grandfather lived next door.
We would put on our snow suits, boots, hats and mittens, and out the door we’d go. I remember a few times when we couldn’t even open the door due to the snow drifts against the door, which eventually prompted my dad and grandfather to install panels on the porches to keep the snow from drifting.
Using snow scoops and shovels, we began the process of shoveling, and clearing, the snow from a 100-foot-long driveway.
Of course, there were some “incidences”. One time, while shoveling the front walkway and steps, my younger brother stood on the railing of the porch to knock down some icycles. Well, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity when it presented itself. I gave him a gentle nudge, and he fell head first into a snow bank. With only his legs from the knees down showing, and wiggling, – I laughed – my grandfather was able to pull him out in short order. But, I can tell you right now, that did not go unpunished. But, thinking back, it was worth it.
The snowbanks would get so high, I would estimate probably seven to eight feet, once the work was done, we would take out the shovels, and begin to dig out tunnels, and chambers, where we would stash snowballs for a later assault on neighborhood kids. Oh, how I loved those snowball fights.
Once the activities were complete, we would head indoors where our mother was waiting to handle our wet clothes. She would have the woodstove going, and we would sit in front of it with our feet on the door to get them thawed. Hot chocolate and cookies would usually be included in this ritual.
At school, the boys would go out at recess and head to the towering snowbanks at the end of the church parking lot, where the nuns discouraged us from going. And there, we played “king of the mountain”. Some of the bigger guys would go to the top of the mounds, and others would try to ascend to the summit and displace the “kings”. Sometimes, it turned into a melee, and the nuns so disapproved of such actions.
Winters were tough, but so were we.
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