Friday, December 11, 2009

Cold: Nature's Own Calliope

Before I take you too far along on this journey, I want to explain what a calliope is. The musical instrument receives its energy from steam; with the loudness of the sounds uncontrollable. There can be sounds that are sweet enough to eat and the next moment the notes screech until the fillings rattle in your back teeth. Can't really ignore a calliope, any more than you can ignore the effects that cold brings with its icy fingers and frigid breath.

As a girl starting out in northern Ohio, I learned many things about cold early in my life. On snowy days, I could look out of my bedroom window and watch the automobiles charge up the hill nearby. Tires would spin out clouds of fluffy white, while digging for a grip on the slippery road beneath the crunchy whiteness. Sometimes, the car would back down and take another run up the hill. Through the frosted window I could see gloved fingers gripping the wheel, mouth held in a straight determined line, and stretched out neck serving as a figurehead encouraging the vessel to conquer the challenging slope ahead. When the car would make it to the top, as many eventually did, I could almost hear the sigh of relief from the driver. During the winter, the same scenario was repeated quite often; sometimes the crisp, cold, crunchy snow was the victor and drivers became pedestrians trudging up the hill, defeated heads hung on the way to the bus stop above.

When it was cold outside, getting prepared was quite a feat for all involved. Mom would gather all the winter layers and I was adorned from the bottom layer up to the tasseled hat at the end. Tights were stretched and seams straightened as toes found their new snug homes. Socks were pulled up and then the feet felt warm and secure. Snow pants, which had elastic at the end of the legs to keep them pulled down, were put over the tights and the bands adjusted under my feet. (You really don't want to put them on under the socks, because those darn elastic bands can really chaff your feet.) Next came the undershirt, the regular shirt and then the sweaters. Cumbersome, thick snow pants and snow jacket were zipped,buttoned and snapped; all the while making sure that the mittens' string was threaded through the sleeves first. Snaps secured the black snow boots. Tassel hat pulled tightly over ears and tied. Scarf wrapped around the neck and secured. By this time my little body was sweating and I was anxious to go outside to play. If you've ever seen "A Christmas Story" and saw the little boy in the snowsuit; yep, that's pretty much me.

Walking a lot like a Sumo wrestler or the Tire guy, I would go out, grab my sled and crunch up the hills nearby. When you are all bundled up for the cold, everything sounds so different; kind of like being under water. Your ears are protected by so many layers of cloth, and your mouth is covered by your scarf; so you are not only deaf, but mute. It's okay, because everyone else is, also.

We would play outside when it was so cold, that our cheeks would actually become "burned" by the cold. Since our cheeks were the only thing that was exposed, it makes sense that many of my childhood photos in the winter show me as a kid with "sunburned" cheeks. Vaseline applied nightly couldn't keep up with the situation of dry, overexposed skin.

To first walk on snow that had a pristine, fresh ice layer on top was a tactile delight. Crunching through that first layer and sinking down into the softness beneath is like biting into a chocolate covered ice cream cone. Unexpectedly different sensations in each layer. Crunch then aaaaah.

After being in the cold, we would come in with fresh wood for the fireplace. It seemed that the colder the wood, the louder it protested being used as fuel. Snow and ice would drip upon the ashes creating a sizzling sonata as the sap fried inside until the log would pop. Warming myself near the fireplace was exciting. Logs shifted as they burned, almost adjusting themselves so that they could be warmed evenly. By the time I had thawed enough to undress, my mom would have made the hot chocolate for me. My last battle against the cold, would be a warm bath, fuzzy socks and flannel jammies.

Cuddling up with a good book and a fantastic mom at the end of my snow day was truly the best music anyone could feel and treasure forever.


  1. Truth Ferret,you are such a fabulous descriptive writer. I don't know if I will ever get to experience snow like that, but thanks to your skill, reading your memories comes just about as close as one can get.

    Who on earth besides you would have thought to liken the snow to a calliope? Amazing. Thank you for sharing!

  2. You are more than welcome to my memories anytime.

    The crack of the ice on the skating pond was a scary and exciting sound that we all listened for when skating and fooling around on Hoffman's pond. Just a small farm pond that we would invade every winter for some slippery, cold adventures. Falling down on the ice wasn't so difficult; it's just trying to get up again that was the puzzle.

  3. Wow! I got the shivers just reading this! Marvelously descriptive narrative; I've got the picture exactly.


  4. I've never been ice skating in my life. Of course, growing up in Houston, the only place (or one of the rare places) to enjoy that activity was the Galleria. But I was a mere spectator, never a participant. Now roller skating, I can do, but never have I strapped on a bladed skate. Sounds like fun for sure.