“The wind howled and the snow came down all night long, across this vast prairie. We will wait until daybreak to make the trek to check the fences and the farm animals. The children are already planning a day of sledding, and are gathering up extra gloves to tuck in pockets for their day of fun.” — Wilma Mentoff, 1951
This winter beckons old memories of our childhood, a time when snowy splendor was our playground, created just for our entertainment.
I remember running to the porch windows in the dark of night, looking out toward the security light near the barn to see if the snow was still coming down. Was it coming fast enough and heavy enough to close school the next day?
It certainly didn’t mean that we would get out of work — the cows needed to be milked, no matter what, and the feeding and cleaning chores must be done. But we were thrilled with the idea of some snow playtime between the morning and evening milking.
If the snowfall came before the ice had frozen completely for skating, there was no talking us out of sled riding. We had the perfect hill for it, and we would invite the neighbor kids to join us.
My favorite sledding equipment was a red fiberglass saucer. No matter what the snowfall was like — heavy or fluffy light — that little red saucer was the perfect way to get the sledding path packed to perfection. The more we used it, the faster our flight down that hill.
Before heading for the hill, we tied baler twine to the old saucer and sleds. As soon as we trudged to the hill, we got busy trying to create at least two paths for sledding so that we could have races, and we quickly figured out a way to blaze a trail for trudging back up the hill with our sleds and saucer.
Sitting at a safe distance from the bottom of our sledding hill was our treehouse, a two-story gem that we girls had built with our own hard work. We would trudge through the heavy snow to carry our thermos of hot chocolate, a few snacks and pairs of extra gloves to the treehouse.
As the youngest of the bunch, I was dressed in hand-me-down everything, from my hat to my boots. I remember having to keep adding pairs of socks in order to make my boots fit, which turned out to be a fringe benefit of the winter season.
If the snow was still coming down, it made the sledding experience all the more magical. Catching a falling snowflake on the tongue while trudging back up the hill with the sled was exhilarating.
Looking back now, I realize how much we were gaining from our hours of play — not just fresh air and exercise, but we learned to share, we learned to diplomatically wait our turn, we learned to be polite to our visiting neighbors who weren’t lucky enough to have their own amazing sledding hill. We did it all without a parent in sight, no one mapping out our hours of play or laying down rules.
Near the sledding hill was a gravel pit, where a bulldozer had dug away soil from a sizable knoll. When Doug and Cindy Smith visited, bringing their toboggan, Doug came up with the brilliant idea that we try flying off the top of the gravel pit. There were no adults around to talk us out of it. Why not?
I remember the thrill of contemplating it. I recall the snowy descent, the flight through air with incredible thrill. I also remember the thud with which we landed, and decided once was enough for me.
Sitting in the treehouse, wrapping chilly fingers around a cup of hot chocolate, it seemed no kid anywhere was having a better day.