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  • Writer's picturejamesbriankerr

Deep Freeze! The Warmth of Home, Hand-me-Downs and Hot Chocolate

With our horse Lady

With much of the country in a deep freeze this week, I’ve found myself digging through the closet for items I haven’t worn for quite some time.

Where’s my wool hat? My scarf and ski gloves? My Gore-tex parka that I rarely wear anymore because it hardly ever snows? It’s ten degrees Fahrenheit outside with a wind chill of zero. I need all this stuff so I don’t freeze while out on my walks with the dog.  

My heavy winter boots, too. I found them up on the shelf in the garage, full of dust and cobwebs. It’s been so long since I’ve worn them that when I went to tie them on, the shoelaces snapped in half. They don’t make shoelaces like they used to.

Then the snow came mid-week and I went looking for more stuff: the snow shovels, the ice scrapers, the box of rock salt to clear the ice on the sidewalks. Call it a refresher in winter readiness.

Cassie wants none of this stuff. I tried to put on her doggie jacket and she tossed it off. No thanks, Dad—I’m fine with the equipment nature has given me. How am I going to chase bunnies and rabbits when I have boots and earmuffs on?

As I bundled up this week to step out into the bitter cold, I found myself thinking back to my childhood days when cold, snowy winters were the norm rather than the exception. My siblings and I were no different from today’s generation of kids in wishing for snow deep enough to give us a day or two off from school.

The difference, of course, was that back then we didn’t have smartphones, videogames, and on-demand streaming media to keep us entertained. Television options were limited, especially during the week (no soap operas, please!)

To find adventure, we had to go outside and we were happy to do so because there was so much to do out there. There were six of us kids—two girls and four boys—which meant our saint of a mother needed to maintain a small department store’s worth of stuff to keep us warm and dry in the dead of winter.

Everything we needed was in the laundry room next to the back door. Coats hung on hooks on the wall. Hats, gloves, mittens, and scarfs were piled into baskets on the floor next to the line of boots.

There was no division of boys’ and girls’ stuff in the baskets. Everything was just thrown in and whoever got there first got the pick of the lot. Whoever got there last … well, sometimes you had to go outside wearing gloves with holes in them, or scarfs that were too short, or ugly hats with girly balls of yarn that you wouldn’t be seen dead wearing in public.

But this was our farmette in the country and there was no one around to see or care. Bundled up like Ralphie’s little brother Randy in A Christmas Story, we’d trudge out the door into the wind-driven snow in search of adventure. We’d build snowmen and have snowball fights and dig tunnels through snow drifts.

If the snow was the packable type, we’d find our sleds in the garage, grease the runners with soap, and head off to find the closest hill to sled down. Most years by mid-January it had been cold long enough to freeze any standing water, so we’d dig out our skates from the mudroom and trudge through the snow to the creek that ran through the woods behind our property.

The skates, like most of our other winter stuff, were hand-me-downs. They didn’t fit perfectly and after an hour or so of skating, sometimes we’d come back with blisters beneath our socks. No big deal. Better to have a pair of skates that were tight than not be able to skate at all.

If the snow was heavy enough that our father had off from work, he’d fire up the tractor, hook up the wagon, and take us all for a snow ride on the street. As we made our way up the road, some of our friends would jump onboard, and soon we had a bit of a snow parade going.

By the time we came back inside after hours in the snow, our faces would be red as beets and our fingers and toes numb from the cold. We’d strip off our wet gloves and hats and drape them on the radiator to dry out.

Meanwhile, waiting for us in the kitchen would be a big pot of hot chocolate warming on the stove. Mom would bring out a bag of marshmallows and a tin of her Christmas cookies, and we’d sit down at the rickety old kitchen table nibbling on cookies and blowing on the hot chocolate until it was cool enough to drink. The marshmallow bobbed on the surface as we drank, growing smaller and smaller as it melted away into a film of milky, velvety goodness.

The thing about that hot chocolate is that we knew it would be waiting for us when we came home from our wintry adventures. Just the thought of it while we were outside in the freezing cold was enough to warm us. Then we’d step inside the heat of the house and sure enough, we could smell the pot of hot chocolate.

It was the contrast between the cold outside and the warmth inside that made those winters so cozy and special. We weren’t rich, but it didn’t matter. We had all the gold in the world right there in that old farmhouse, on that little farm.

Perhaps we as parents worry too much about making sure our children have the best things, the nicest clothes, the latest, greatest gadgets, the finest educations. Our most important job, it seems to me, is making sure the houses our kids come home to are filled with warmth and the simple expressions of love and caring that fill their stomachs and their hearts.

Anyway, if you’re in an area where there’s cold and snow, I hope you find the time to bundle up and get out in it. It’s beautiful!

As for me, I’m off for a walk with Cassie. Afterward, I think I’ll make a batch of hot chocolate—with marshmallows, of course.

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Jan 21

Thanks Jim. Your words bring back fond memories of colder winters, second-hand skates & mismatched gloves, hats & scarves. As a large, small animal veterinarian, our Dad was often out on calls to farms throughout the county. So my sister and I shoveled out out driveway, sidewalk, and the hospital's parking area in front of our house. After that was finished we would grab our sleds and take off down the street. Great memories!!


Jan 21

Great post, Jim! Perfect sentiments! On a practical note, you're right that milder winters have increased the longevity of outerwear. I've cleared the recent snow in a pair of lined Sorel boots that I bought in 1994. Unlike yours, my laces have, fortunately, remained intact - though a couple are stripped at the tips.

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