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STORY: "A Winter Memory" by Jim Sullivan

October 04, 2005

[I'm happy to publish story-files that I get "over the transom" when they have some kind of OYB vibe. This one is sentimental but actually plain and direct, about the memory of a way of life that thankfully still persists despite the deadly-exploitive commercial forces working against it. I note that the action described connects people of several ages and times-of-life. Note how ANY modern social-exploitive-consumer trend instead is divisive and corrosive on all relations, seeking only to segregate or enhance images. Swap the vacation south idea for video games or anything else keeping northern kids indoors and shopping.]


by Jim Sullivan

A friend informed me last week that he's taking his wife and thee kids on a ten-day trip, over the Christmas and New Year's holidays, to Florida. "I'm happy for you and your wife," I said. But I didn't tell him how sad I felt for his children.

His comment, you see, had reminded me of my youth many winters ago. Then, I lived in a small town in Michigan. And those days are still vivid to me.

I had a best buddy back there. His parents were affluent. and they used to take my pal and his younger brother to Florida for a couple of weeks every Christmas. Rather than being envious of my friend, I felt downright sorry for him. I even considered him to be truly underprivileged. My reasons were ample.

Winter in the Midwest, more than any other season, was a kid's time of the year. We could hardly wait for our first major snowfall that came around the holidays. Already out of school on Christmas vacation, we had all the time in the world to play in the white powder. And we longed to do so.

Our little community, nestled on the shore of Lake Huron, could lay claim to some of the finest sledding terrain around: huge bluffs looking out over the water. And with minor manmade refinements, the bluffs were perfect for tobogganing, too.

Naturally, then, whenever we could round up a buddy or two, we'd grab our sleds or toboggans, and every kid back then had one or the other, and head for the bluffs. There, we'd slide down the slopes (they seemed like the Alps) and trudge back up (when they really felt like the Alps) for hours and hours.

All the while we played there, our bodies got colder and redder until parts turned blue. Despite this freezing, colorful experience, no one wanted to go home. Eventually, though, one by one, the snow and ice encrusted, unfeeling kids would quit going down the bluffs. Silently, then, each shuffled awkwardly, and quietly, sniffling for home, dragging a sled or the like behind.

We kids must have presented a disturbing scene to our poor mothers upon our return. Red faces, teary eyes, blue lips and ear lobes, runny noses, and snow and ice all over. And a lot of the former and some of the latter filled out boots, too. Then it was sheer relief to shed our winter garb. Most of it ended up in a heap, unfortunately, dripping melting snow and ice, on mom's clean floor.

After wiping our faces, not to mention our noses, on wet sleeves from discarded shirts, we'd wrap dry blankets around ourselves to try and get warm while sitting in front of the radio, which was tuned to our favorite programs. And as we thawed, our formerly cold skin, particularly on the legs, became extremely itchy. But no amount of rubbing or scratching could satisfy it.

Some time later, the itching would stop, and we'd be nice and toasty. Helping us to get that way was mother's always delicious, ever steaming hot chocolate with a large marshmellow floating, and melting, on top.

Winter snow also provided another boon to kids. Older folks needed to have their driveways and walks shoveled. That meant we could earn some cold, hard cash, allowing us to buy Christmas presents for others. The money helped pay for those extra holiday goodies we liked to buy for ourselves, too.

Mother, however, could be a temporary obstacle to our moneymaking. She always wanted us to shovel our own sidewalks and driveway first. And she wanted us to do it for nothing!

On those rare occasions when it didn't snow for the holidays, we could often count on extremly cold weather. That meant we'd have ice skating, at least. Hockey could be played, also. And that was fun. Later, in our teen years, when boys discovered girls, we'd have ice skating parties in the cold, crisp air after dark. The only lights provided at our improvised skating rink, except for that coming from the moon, was from a huge bonfire that we kept burning nearby. Its flames alo gave us warmth, but it wasn't our only source of heat.

Many a boy and girl got his or her first kiss at such a gathering. Warm hearts, fortunately, made up for the typically cold, blue lips encountered around the rink. No wonder we steamed when we breathed.

But a white Christmas or, at minimum, a cold, brisk Yuletide season was the biggest and best thing a kid would miss if he went South with his parents. These holidays just wouldn't seem right, at least to a Midwesterner, if he or she spent them in a hot, palm-tree filled state.

Admittedly, back in them days, Florida didn't have a Disneyland. But even now that it does, it still doesn't have a real Midwestern winter holiday. Until it does, I'll continue to feel sorry for kids who have to go there for Christmas.

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