Sunday, December 16, 2007


It is Sunday and outside my window is a scene of snow-covered beauty, trees with branches carrying burdens of white, several inches of snow covering the ground, and more snow expected as the day goes by.

Winter has not officially arrived yet, but evidently it came early to the party, like those guests who come before you have put on your party clothes and combed your hair. People seem to be divided into two groups, those who love winter and eagerly await piles of snow so that they can jump on their snowmobiles or skis or other type of conveyance and zoom through the piles of white stuff like happy children on sleds. Then there are the other types, those who moan as the days get colder, dread taking out the shovel, and pray for Spring.

In a way, it's like Republicans and Democrats, two different outlooks on the same problem. These two types really puzzle each other. One kind wonders how any fools can mush around in cold, wintry blasts, cheeks red, noses running, shivering from cold. The other ones consider these opposites to be shivering old weaklings, afraid to enjoy God's bounty, wrapped in blankets and moaning about spending next year in Florida.

Actually, Florida's real name is South Michigan, because Michiganders make up a great amount of the Snowbirds that arrive every year. Staid, normal people from Michigan get down into Florida at about November, drive like idiots, sun their wrinkled hides on the beaches, and generally add to the confusion. Native-born Floridians resent Snowbirds, because their 35-mile an hour speeds in 70 MPH zones impedes their whirlwind journey toward gory deaths. They tolerate Snowbirds only because they spend a lot of money.

When I was a child, I loved winter. I never had any boots, but that did not stop me from roaming the seven lakes connected to our farm like an Inuit seeking seals. Sometimes I went skating. Someone had given me an old pair of ill-fitting skates, so I would put them on, call Duke, (my nephew Ronald's dog) take a firm grip on his tail, and soar across the ice like a professional skater.

You might ask why I had access to Ronald's dog. That is because the Farm was the family's Dog Depository. If anyone had a dog they couldn't control, rather than listen to the neighbors' complaints, they brought the dog to the Farm, where these happy animals lived on corncobs and potato peelings until their deaths. Duke was a big Germany Shepherd, with a joyful habit of chasing every car that passed by. It was a terrible commotion as he raced along, snapping at tires and growling ferociously at these intruders. However, he realized the danger that automobiles were, so when I walked with him along the road, he would lean on me and push me into the ditch.

I suffered from periodic sore throats every winter. Then I would spend about a week on the old itchy, mohair couch until the episode passed. At one time, my condition became so precarious that I ended up in the Country Hospital. I was so backward and shy that using the bedpan was an agony. Remember, I was used to the old, airy outhouse leaning next to the barn. To urinate in a silvery pan in full view of anyone walking by was, to me, the epitome of shame. I did it, but when it came to a bowel movement, I was adamantly holding onto my pride. They wouldn't allow me to go home until that event took place, so my stay was extended by a few days, until finally, nature took its course. In my opinion, my body was traitorous and had disobeyed my will to never submit to such a humiliation! It was a humbling experience.

Every Sunday was a holiday at the Farm. The cars would start to arrive and my sister's and brother's families would pile out and come into the house. Mom was ready for them, with biscuits ready to go, food ready for the table. The old farmhouse rang with laughter and chatter. I was always happy with Sundays, summer or winter. We didn't have sleds. We didn't have skis. So we improvised, sliding downhill on old apple tree limbs, building igloos out of the snow. Winter is so much more fun during childhood. When you are adult, that snow is an impediment, because you have to get to work or to the grocery store. When you are a child, it is magical, it is a playground sent from Heaven for children to enjoy.

In the early afternoon, it was time for dinner. Planks would be placed from one chair to another, to provide more room for everyone to sit. The piano bench was carried in from the living room, the old broken-down kitchen chairs teetered as you sat. It was great fun, but sometimes you could only eat the food that was placed directly in front of you, because by the time it was passed around, the dishes were empty.

I remember them all. Bud (Harold) was the sensible one..."Come on, now, let's settle down and eat!" Hubert was the instigator. Connie, my sister in law, was the madcap. Geraldine sat in the midst of the fray looking, as usual, as though she had just stepped out of a salon. Harry sat next to Jewell, his new wife, who looked as though she had entered the gates of Bedlam. Herman pontificated about his latest idea, while Dorothy, his wife, rolled her eyes and reached for a biscuit. They all were there, just about every Sunday, and the old house reverbated with noise and confusion, its timber floors rattling and shaking as the children played together.

It was shattering for me to learn as I grew into adulthood that some people spend their younger years in absolute misery with uncaring parents and no relatives. Then, too, some people had organized, sedate childhoods, with no uproars, no music, no raucous laughter. I went to school with these girls, starched and prim in their new clothes. I viewed them with both curiosity and alarm. They even wore boots in the wintertime, neat little boots, sometimes decorated with tassels or fur. They were like people from another planet, another universe, foreign to me.

So, like most children, I lived in my own world, unaware that there was a real world out there. The only Black I ever saw were those friends of my father's who came to talk about horses. I never met a Hispanic, an Italian, or any other person of different nationality. My childhood world was a small one, miniscule, peopled by a great group of family members. My best friends were my neices, my nephews and our herd of dogs. It was the dogs that comforted me in unhappy moments, when someone had yelled at me or hurt my feelings. Then I would sit at the side of the farmhouse, sniffling, as a bevy of sympathetic wet noses gave me canine kisses to cheer me up.