I had a lot of things happen in the winter as a kid in the 1950’s and 60’s. It happens frequently that I hear people about my age refer to the deep snow falls we used to have back then. They are constantly comparing them to the snowfalls of now. I imagine most people forget or choose to ignore climate change as a valid factor. I was one of the unfortunate children of the 50’s that had a birthday in the middle of January. January 20th seemed often blessed by a snowstorm of substance, which was great for sliding and building snow forts, but not so great for having a birthday party. We lived on a single lane dirt road in Vermont.
We had a tiny 2 car driveway, so if we had company they had to pull part way off to the side of the road. If we had more than one car to visit, then there was a problem with the high snowbanks. No room, and no way for a passenger to get out the other side of the car. My mother only attempted to have one birthday party for me when I turned 7 years old. We had an outhouse, so I am sure the parents who were aware of that, kept their kids home, or told them to “hold it”, until they were picked up and went home!
I don’t remember too many details about the party in the house but remember Mom used it as leverage to keep me from misbehaving, kind of like the times when she said “Santa will find out if you’re bad instead of good.” Every time I was not acting like a good boy, she would say she was going to call off having the kids coming to the party. I was an easy mark and changed my behavior quickly. The party did happen after all, and there were several kids who came and I had a nice time. Surprises were few and far between as far as my birthday was concerned. Winter was a sure thing though, and each year the snows seemed deep and the Januarys were cold, very cold.
One snowy winter when I was about 5 years old, I recall vividly the chance to create a very cozy room in the middle of a snowbank. My mother was usually the one to shovel the driveway and the path to the outhouse. She had photos of the high snowbanks on the side of the driveway, and how much taller they were than the cars. I was a creative and adventurous kid. I crawled up to the top of a snow bank on one side of our driveway, dug a hole from the top, went down a couple feet and began to scoop out a large chamber in the center of the packed snow. It went down about 3 feet or so from the top, and about 4 or 5 feet across. I brought toys in with me and pretended I had my own house or cave. I spent hours there making up exciting stories and imagining it as a cozy room. It was a good place to make and store snowballs. There were very few cars that traveled our road, usually just the people who lived on it, and occasionally people who would use it as a shortcut to go from Cavendish to Route 103 in Gassetts.
One day I was stacking a new pile of snowballs and got the brilliant idea to throw them at cars traveling by. I was playing in my cave and heard a car coming down the road. I got all tensed up with excitement and couldn’t wait for it to approach within my range from the snow cave. I peeked up over the top of the opening and held a firm snowball in my hand. When the car was almost past me, I fired the snowball at it and watched in suspense as the snowball splatted on the windshield of the car. Yay! Direct hit. Uh, oh. I frowned in horror as the car’s brake lights came on and the man got out of the car. I crawled into the far corner of the open room I’d created. I remember hearing the driver shouting, “Hey, who’s out here? Who threw that?” I kept silent and hoped he’d just leave, but he walked up our driveway and knocked on the door of our house. I heard him ask my mother if she knew who might have hit his car with a snowball. He said “I looked around and couldn’t find any kids anywhere.”
“I bet I can find him!” my mother responded with a rather determined and annoyed voice. She walked directly across the driveway and up the snowbank getting footing by using my tracks. I huddled still in the protective cave. That is, protective from everyone except an angry mother! She reached down the opening and grabbed my coat with one gripping right hand and hoisted me right up through the hole, like a mother cat with a naughty kitten. There I was, face to face with the driver of the car I’d just attacked with my mortar snow ball. He looked half angry and half amused. I was totally petrified with fear. My mother never released her grip and told me to apologize to the man. He proceeded to tell me how I could have caused him an accident or damaged his windshield with ice and cracked it. It would cost a lot of money if he’d had a broken one. As soon as he mentioned money I really started shaking. My father would kill me if I cost him an extra dime. I stuttered and shyly told him I was sorry. He said it was ok this time but never to do it again. He tipped his hat and thanked my mother as he went back to his car. My mother wasn’t lenient and made me go into the house immediately and sit on the couch for the rest of the day.
There was no way I’d ever even consider throwing another snowball at a car after that fearful encounter. From then on, the cave was a cozy place to play while I made up stories about Native Americans surviving winter hunting activities while away from their tribal camps. My mother kept her eye on me. I was always ready to answer, if she called to tell me my time was up for playing outside, and to come in for food. After all, eating was my other favorite winter activity!
One of those years with the high snowbanks. Mom holding me still on the front fender of Dad’s 53 Chevy pick up, the only new vehicle he bought while I was growing up.
Rick Wyman ©