This is one in a series of articles reminiscing about growing up in small town America in the 50's and 60's...
I hated January! I was a skinny kid, without much natural insulation, so the grey, cold days of January back East were about my least liked ones of the entire year. January was downright dreary, a letdown after the festive holidays of December were gone, the cheerful lights adorning the neighborhood houses came down and a nice, long vacation ended with the inevitable trudge back to school.
But, as much as I hated January's cold weather, I prayed for it! Well, actually I prayed for January's snow! Not because of the indescribable joy of waking up to houses, trees, cars, and everything else draped in a glistening, white blanket. Rather, because of the indescribable joy of a "snow day"-- a day off from school! (Some readers may recall that I grew up in the southern part of New Jersey and think there's never much snow there, but I just checked and the forecast for tomorrow in my hometown of Vineland is a high of 37, low of 27-- and a 60% chance of snow!)
The thrill of waking up at the break of dawn to freshly fallen snow was almost as good as the excitement of Christmas morning. On most school days you couldn't get my brother, sister, and me out of bed with a cannon blast, but on a snow day we would rush downstairs -- not to a tree with presents under it-- but to turn on the family's big, glass-tubed radio. If we were lucky, our school's name would be called out, along with that beautiful word "closed"! (When I got a little older, we would skip the trip downstairs and merely huddle under my blanket to secretly listen on my new gadget, a transistor radio.) Once we heard the word "closed", we all rushed to
get ready to make the first tracks in the pristine snow. It was quite an ordeal, like layering on suits of armor for battle (which was partially the case, as I'll explain later)! There were the required long johns (thermal underwear), sweater, 2 pairs of pants, long socks, shoes, boots, overcoat, gloves, and woolen cap -- all to get on (hopefully in that order). And, of course, Mom wouldn't let us out till we had our breakfast too!
When we finally opened the door and dove out into the snow, there was sort of an understood agenda of activities. First, build a snow man for the youngest to enjoy. Second, throw snow or snow balls at each other and try to bury each other in the snow. (That may have come first). Then right after the plow trucks came through to clear the streets, the neighborhood boys would head off to go sledding. We didn't have many hills or mountains nearby, so we used the snow banks on the side of
the road to launch us down steep inclines and around curves (with one or two of us watching out for cars!). If you were lucky, you had an "American Flyer" and could actually steer around a curve (but others delighted in merely crashing into the snow banks!).
After all that, it was time for a lunch break. Boy, did Campbell's vegetable alphabet soup hit the spot then! (By the way, Campbell's actually had a factory in my hometown because of our famous Jersey tomatoes). But the main event was still to come -- fort building and all-out snowball warfare!
This was serious stuff: The oldest and biggest boys were the "generals" in charge of the fort locations and construction. The younger boys, along with the girls, started making and stacking ammo (snow balls) inside the fort. Then it was on! No rules, just snow mayhem! Everyone got into the act, even my dog George. Once the last snow ball was thrown and the forts were crushed, we then turned our attention on chasing George around until we tackled him and formed a big heap of bodies covered with snow!
These snow days surely were wonderful times, but as I grew into my teenage years, the magic of all that seemed to vanish. There was too much snow to have to shovel off the sidewalk and driveway. (Which now, since I was the oldest son, became my job and it took some elbow grease because no one had riding blowers back then!). The beautiful, fresh snow seemed to devolve into disgusting, black slush in no time. And it was cold outside (which, when I was no longer playing, I remembered I didn't like).
That's why, as I got older, I preferred to stay inside -- particularly on January 1 once our family got a color TV. (Remember, once upon a time, when there were only 3 stations, all in black and white?). The reason to stay in and watch TV was the Rose Bowl parade and game, broadcast from sunny Southern California! I remember thinking (and may have even asked my parents one time). "Why can't we live there?" (To which I was immediately responded to with a blunt "NO!"). My memories of
watching that warm weather parade and game, while it was cold and gray outside, were literally my motivator to eventually come out to California, where as it turns out I formed my own Law Firm and some 38 years later, am here writing this article to you today!
So, looking back at it all, I have to say I still hate the cold but "Thank you, January!"
(Have your own childhood winter stories? Share them with your loved ones too!)