Tricounty News

Echoes down a half-century, Part 3 - My Minnesota Winter

"A Good Old-Fashioned Winter." I'm not sure what it means, exactly, but I'm hearing the phrase quite often this year. Whether old-fashioned or new-fangled, the older I get, the less I enjoy winters. They seem to be lengthening, despite global warming. But then, I didn't really enjoy my '59 winter in Kimball either. I do recall being cold, not surprisingly for a ten-year-old used to running around barefoot in the African sun. While I had looked forward to seeing real snow, I don't recall one image of any snow activity: no snowman, no white Christmas, no sledding. Unsure as to whether that is simply faulty memory (it's the first thing to go, they say), I took a look at the state's weather records online. Sure enough, there was not one day that winter that stayed below zero, and never more than three inches of snow accumulated on the ground. And Christmas '58 was part of a week-long thaw--reaching thirty to forty degrees each day. Of course, Powder Ridge was not yet even a dream, or owners would have had a rough year. My winter memories are few; only three images stand out during my winter at the little gray house. Overshoes: Today's youngsters wear sneakers in any weather; they can be counted on like the mail carriers of old, come rain or sleet or snow. But in '59 we wore big black overshoes, equally good for mud or snow. They came in two flavors. Zip-ups clogged with snow or mud or rust, and were so hard to zip up they were usually left loose. My favorite was the buckle version, with almost unlimited options. Each of four or five buckles had five or six slots. On the opposite side was the latch that would fit into any slot on the buckle. Now, just flip it over and shoes were safely protected, clean enough for school or even church. The urge to ice skate: It was an early morning walk from the little gray house to the ice rink below the water tower, west of the school. The warming house was a misnomer, perhaps "windbreak" fit better. I was determined to get in at least one winter activity. As I recall, it was a one-time-only experiment. I'm struck by the fact that people who do well at activities often have well-fitting comfortable equipment, and are suitably attired. Others borrow skates that don't fit, and are half frozen before they begin. It was over the Christmas holidays, as I recall. Perhaps it was Saturday, Jan. 3. According to the weather records, that was the coldest day of the winter. Temperatures crept all the way to 2 degrees from an early morning minus 11. One self-taught lesson was the only urge to skate I had that year, in fact, the only urge-ever. After all, I certainly wouldn't have a chance the next year, when a "white Christmas" would mean whitecaps on the Indian Ocean. My next skating urge, six years latter, came with four wheels under each boot, indoors, and a cute teen on each arm to hold me up. Perhaps my problem was weak ankles. Furnace and flannel pajamas: Nights were cold in the little gray house with its gravity-flow furnace. All of the heat came straight up from the basement through a four-foot square steel grille, and slowly rose up the stairs to take on Jack Frost. The upstairs back bedroom required very determined warmth molecules to climb the stairs, circle all around the railing to find the doorway, and struggle their way into the west bedroom. Determined or not, Mr. Molecule had by this time lost twenty degrees. The frost on the single-pane windows lasted all winter. Of course, the famous archeologist and adventurer, Indiana Jones, was as yet unknown. But I fancy we would have identified with him. Like a bottomless pit filled with snakes and scorpions that tested Indy's mettle, the wicked steel grille above the furnace faced us every night. Weaker individuals would have been intimidated by the Guardian, the impassable obstacle that sat squarely between the entry points to the kitchen, living room, stairwell, and bedroom. More timid souls would have remained in one room for the duration of the winter. But like Indy, we learned to escape entrapment. Occasionally, like Indy, we tried to jump the pit, only to burn our bare feet on the far edge, barely escaping with our lives. More trustworthy was "the swing." From the frigid linoleum in the kitchen, grab the door posts and swing around the corner onto the living room carpet, and then once more at the next corner, landing gracefully on the first step of the endless staircase. In the new millennium we would have fought back with law suits against the designers of this life-threatening hazard. In '59, we only earned our badge of courage. There were two great dangers for the naïve or simply inattentive. The first was forgetting to open the door to the stairway by mid-afternoon. Penalty: at least 10 degrees. The second was forgetting to retrieve flannel p.j.s before hopping into the bath tub. The treacherous trail was infinitely more dangerous when the hero was wrapped in only a towel. At the signal, "Aren't you boys in bed yet?" swing to the first step and charge up the stairs while carefully sidestepping the booby traps like the wiry "Slinky" hiding on either side of any step, or the scattered and slippery View Master disks. On reaching the top, dive headlong under the covers. Hopefully, brother Michael had warmed up a spot amid the frozen sheets. If not, I could always test my courage once again by planting an icy foot on his warm body-equally dangerous. Ah, memories of a good, old-fashioned winter! * * * * * * * * * * Feb. 24 has passed, Bob Hermann's extraordinary program of Forest City Stockade history and stories will long be remembered. Hope you were there. Be sure to attend Kimball's sixth annual Community Expo 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday March 28. We'll be celebrating our Society's ninth year and invite you to stop at our booth to register for prizes and dozens of other fabulous booths of great interest. Details will continue in the Tri-County News each week prior. We're deeply grateful for generous support through memberships in this historical society and the restoration of Kimball's historic city hall, with Phase 4 completed during 2009 and more to follow. Did you know our city hall is the only national landmark we have? To respond or participate in any of the above, the Kimball Area Historical Society can be reached at Box 100, Kimball MN 55353 by mail, or by phone (320) 398-5743 and 398-5250. We want to hear from you. And we're looking for historical family photos, also stories and photos for this column. "Milestones"