—written by Kathleen Clark
During my elementary and high school years, winter in the country lasted from early November to late spring. It was mega cold and keep warm methods were on everyone’s mind.
I lived in a six room, two story house near Twin Lakes County Park, Westmoreland County (Pennsylvania),where a foot or more of snow was standard through most of the season. We didn’t own a snow blower, if they’d even been invented, so it was a continual challenge to keep an open path shoveled from the front of the house to the road and garage.
Keeping the cold at bay in the large, drafty house required ingenuity and the stamina of someone trekking in the Himalayas. The ceilings were high, few first floor rooms had doors, so curtain rods with thick blankets were hung between them. I learned to dodge the cold spots in the house like swimming through a freshwater lake; as quickly as possible! One room living became desirable as my parents and I huddled together in the living room and kitchen. A free-standing kerosene heater provided mobile heat for any room, but I loved to warm myself in front of the open oven door. Vigorously I rubbed frosty fingertips in front of the rising heat waves, then tucked them in my bathrobe sleeves. I also relished the moments of toasty heat blowing from the registers between rooms, while I got dressed.
Winter evenings dad wore a flannel shirt, mom and I donned a chenille bathrobe and snuggled beneath flannel or woolen blankets draped over our knees, while we watched I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners and Ed Sullivan. Favorite keep-warm beverages were made-from-scratch: cocoa, Ovaltine and warm vanilla milk with a touch of sugar and nutmeg. Sometimes dad would make a batch of chocolate-walnut fudge or we’d shake a pan of stove-top popcorn.
Reading a book, before bed, I scrunched beneath the covers, periodically blowing on my fingertips, the triangular electric heater pulled as close as I dared. When morning came I resisted emerging from inside my cozy cocoon. Prior to converting to oil, we had an old cast-iron coal furnace that required perpetual attention. Regular deliveries of bituminous coal were emptied down a shoot into the bin beside the furnace. Two floors below I heard dad shoveling coal and stoking its fiery belly; a familiar sound heralding the start of another school day.
In freezing temperatures, I postponed waiting until the last possible minute for the bus. For years I walked at least five hundred yards to join other kids at the assigned bus stop. When they graduated to higher grades, I was able to finagle staying inside the house. Bundled in coat, boots and gloves I stood in the entrance hall and watched until the yellow bus nosed past the neighbor’s house. Dashing out the door I spent only a few moments in the cold before stepping into the bus.
All efforts to keep warm didn’t matter when it came to winter fun; sled riding down the sparsely traveled side road guiding a wooden sled or rolling snowballs to make a snowman or fort. Padded from head to foot in double layers of clothing, even water-resistant gloves became soaked, my cheeks were chafed pink and feet turning blue, before I admitted defeat and came inside.
Winters today give us only a few days of this kind of experience. I hope you enjoyed Kathleen’s “looking back.” Carolyn C. Holland