THE GHOSTS OF WINTER
With the writer's strike, we have all suffered from a strange assortment of programs on our televisions. One day, I found myself watching a movie with Lindsay Lohan and a car named Herbie. I followed that with a stint on the History Channel, where one can always catch up on the activities of Adolph Hitler. After following up with a few cartoons and a few minutes with CNN, in which the name Barack Obama was repeated at least fifty times, I gave up and decided to do a little housework. When housework seems more exciting than television, you know you are bored.
The snow hasn't helped at all. We have had little besides winter storm warnings and notices of how many inches will fall the next day.....and the next. With great happiness, I heralded the arrival of March, hoping for a little sunshine. Instead, there was more snow in the forecast.
So the days pass by and the assortment of boots by the door continue to drip their dirty water on the floor. Jedi and I have spent some lonely afternoons looking out the window at the snow and waiting for Spring. She holds me personally accountable for both rain and snow. She takes a step outside, then turns and looks at me as though she is saying..."What! Again? What's the matter with you, you turkey!" Then she goes outside and entertains herself by plowing her nose through the drifts, coming back inside with clumps of snow dripping from her nose.
During my childhood, winters were long and arduous. Keeping water in the house was a never-ending chore. Mom would pile clean, white snow into the galvanized tub that sat on top the old cookstove. Then she would build up the fire by loading the wood into the stove and wait for the snow to melt. It took hours to get enough water to wash the clothes, wash the dishes, and mop the old linoleum floor, but she did it. Every day, that floor was mopped; that raggy mop...made from our old discarded clothing...scrubbing the dirt from the linoleum. The linoleum was so worn that it was brown in spots where the shiny decor had worn away and it didn't look much cleaner after the mopping than it did before it was cleaned, but Mom had her standards of cleanliness and never failed to perform each task as though cleanliness really was next to Godliness, which she reminded us about every day.
There were more blizzards back then, howling winds that beat at the windows and shook the walls of the house as though some whirling angry snow creature wanted to bust them down and gobble us up. We sat in the living room, dinner over, dishes done, floor mopped, everything tidied up for morning. Mom always had a glass of milk and crackers after her work was done, then she'd head off to bed for the night, while the rest of us sat around the stove and soaked up the warmth.
I would sit there, putting off the trip upstairs until I was so sleepy I couldn't keep my eyes open. It was a trip I dreaded, leaving the heat behind to enter the Arctic regions of the upstairs. There, the cold had settled in until it was like opening a freezer door and stepping inside, a steady, merciless, bone-chilling cold that made your teeth ache and your blood turn into ice. One couldn't stroll to bed, but had to make a frantic dash for the bed, then pull the heavy quilts aside and stick your legs under the covers, dragging your frozen body behind them. Sometimes Mom put a hot iron, wrapped in towels, under the quilts. Then your feet would snuggle up to the blessed heat emitting from this bundle, trying to draw it up into the rest of your body. Eventually, your body heat would warm your nest and you would blissfully sleep with only your nose sticking out from under the quilts, like a periscope lifting out of the ocean's depths in search of lifegiving air.
Mom's quilts were handmade, carefully sewn on the old pedal sewing machine she kept in the corner of her bedroom. She made all of our clothing on this machine and I can still remember her pedaling away with the same enthusiasm you see today in a gym where some man is building up his Abs. Her eyes failing, she would sew in the dim light until the shadows of darkness forced her to put away the garment until morning. Helma nor I owned a "storebought" dress, but wore the results of Mom's sewing, dresses made from flowered floursacks and feedbags, some of them quite attractive. We were walking advertisements for Enriched Wheat Flour.
The quilts were made of old clothing, men's, women's and children's. I don't know what she lined them with, but whatever it was, it was heavy. Crawling under those quilts were like covering yourself with slabs of lead. You had to remain in one position all night, because it took too much effort to try to move under these quilts. Shippy, Helen's husband, made the mistake of trying to turn over one night when he was sleeping at the Farm. In the middle of the night, we were awakened by a loud crash and the sound of breaking glass. We all ran into the hallway, startled by the noise and by Shippy's grunts of despair. It seems that he had tried to change his position and had lifted Mom's quilt so that he could move, sending his elbow crashing through the window that was beside the bed.
People pay good money for old quilts, but I doubt if Mom's quilts would qualify. They weren't pretty, but were made of old overalls, drab old dresses, and occasionally a square made of Helma's and my floursack material. However, they kept us all warm on those cold winter nights when the ghosts of winter howled at the windows and the creaking old house allowed the knife-like thrusts of the wind to sneak in through the cracks.