The summer heat brings back fond memories of winter
Camping this summer hasn’t exactly been the ideal pursuit for us. When my wife Suzi and I took our canine companion Shae to a central Illinois lake and campground in June, the three of us roasted in the heat.
We had no idea it was a warm-up – a well-meaning pun – when we went out in late August at the same campground. The heat was fierce, from dawn until sunset and until late at night. It was too hot to even try to fish, despite the fact that a huge lake was a stone’s throw away.
Oh, well, I tried to tell myself, I don’t have to get out of that scorching driveway sun when I come home. It didn’t help matters at all; for the most part I stayed inside our motorhome and read a book. Suzi is not a reader, but she has occupied our self-study vacations doing these sudoku puzzles or playing solitaire and various other card games on her laptop.
Shae seemed totally content to just have fun inside the air-conditioned motorhome.
I tried to remember a column where I complained about winter and find it in my personal archives after I got home. I wrote the following on a brutal winter day in January 2019.
It is Thursday morning that I am writing this. Was it only yesterday, late afternoon, that I stood in the doorway of my garage and marveled at the view stretching out in front of me? My driveway was totally empty of any sign of weekend snowfall. I mean, not a single clump, not a withered snowflake on its now black and shiny surface.
It wasn’t until the start to greet the welcome gesture of a good neighbor to bring his monstrous man-eating snowblower last weekend to clear the bulk of the white stuff from my driveway.
I admit being a little obsessed with clearing my driveway snow and I have been for several years when I had my gravel road asphalted. Now showing its fair share of cracks, the driveway nonetheless remains a high priority to avoid snow and ice.
When I opened the garage door today to let our two dogs out for their morning rituals, I almost gasped at the fresh snow covering my beautiful driveway. After leaving the canine companions in the warmth of the house, I figured the snow – probably less than two inches – could be easily removed with a snow shovel. But there was no pressure to do with only manpower. This snow was wet and heavy, too heavy to be pushed more than a few feet. For now, I’m hoping for above-freezing temperatures, which are in the forecast, and abundant sun, which isn’t expected, to clear my way before dark.
Get the picture? In the fall of my life, I don’t really like snow. But it has not always been so. If there’s anything good to come from snows like the ones we’ve known, they bring back memories of another time when snowfall was welcome.
When I was a teenager my family lived a mile north of Armington on a half-mile lane on a two-story rented farmhouse. Crossing the track, which headed east from the Armington-Minier asphalt, just before we reached our house, there was a concrete culvert over a small stream, really nothing more than a drainage ditch for the land tile. The grass, brush and weeds that grew along the banks of the ditch provided habitat for all manner of vermin and game, especially in winter.
When we had winter storms around this time and classes at Hittle Township High School were canceled, it meant a day of exploring for me along the banks of the little stream. My mom would make a hot breakfast with corn porridge or oatmeal and, maybe as a bonus, cookies and gravy if it was my lucky day.
After breakfast, I bundled up with enough layers of clothing that it was difficult to move my arms and legs. But I succeeded. The last stop before we stepped outside was the closet in the old man’s bedroom, where I grabbed hold of my late grandfather’s Stevens Little Scout short-barreled shotgun and one shot .22 caliber and tucked in. a box of .22 short bullets in my outer coat pocket.
Closely hunted down by Butch, our beloved little dog of the Heinz variety, we would walk out the front door, wade through the snow to that concrete culvert and begin our hike along the riverbanks. Despite his mixed heritage, Butch did not have the smallest stain of hunting dog DNA in his hairy black body. When a dove, quail or pheasant soared in front of him, he was surprised to the point of running away from the sudden flights. On the other hand, chasing a rabbit seemed to whet his interest, but not to the point of chasing them, only sniffing where they had buried themselves in the snow.
Rabbits were my prey, and I always had visions of bringing a couple home for family supper, hopefully accompanied by another pan of sauce. Truth be told, I don’t know how many boxes of .22 shorts I hiked on those snowy winter hikes, but I admit the rabbits always won. I might have scared a few with near misses – but failure is failure is failure, failure that you can’t cram in a pan for supper. In my defense, few of the cans and bottles that sometimes littered the banks of the creek have survived unscathed. As long as my target didn’t move, I was a dead eye.
Today’s heavy snowfall always brings me back to those good times with my faithful companion Butch. Obviously, I’m not the only one whose memory bank is boosted by the worst winter has to give. After the blast of snow last weekend, I received a short essay on a long winter past from longtime acquaintance Louise Webster.
I have known Louise for many years, but we haven’t been in contact for a long time. She grew up on a farm in Williamson County, near Marion, but came to live in Lincoln in the 1950s. She had parents in the area and met her future husband Noble, now deceased, during a visit to Logan County. Louise had a long career at Lincoln Developmental Center, where she retired in 1990.
Through all the years we’ve known each other, I had no idea Louise was a writer until she received her essay this week. She wrote it, she says, in the 1990s while taking a children’s book writing class. It’s called “Winter 1952 – Southern Illinois.”
“I was 13,” Louise told me. “This time reminds me of this memory.”
I am delighted to share his vivid memory:
“It’s so calm that the early morning light makes the scene look like a fairy tale. The sunlight is hiding somewhere above the clouds. The air smells clean and fresh, except for the faint smell of smoke coming from the fireplace and twisting like a giant corkscrew until it disappears into the clouds.
“Mother Nature gave us another blanket of snow overnight to cover the heavy snow from three days ago. There’s no way it’s melting anytime soon with this freezing 10-below-zero weather we have. The big maple branches in the front yard creak under the frozen snow. The garage beyond has a thick blanket of snow on the roof, and the snow swirls on the north side like a giant sled.
“A rabbit jumps into the yard in front of the garage, making a low thud. Further from the garage in the backyard, the large pond is still frozen with thick ice and snow. Small areas of thinner ice around the edge of the pond are evidence that it is broken up for the animals to come out of the barn and drink.
“The cattle in their stalls move around, hitting the feeder in their impatience to eat. The chickens flap their wings as they descend from the perch. The snow cracks under my boots as I step out of the porch shelter. The icy air hits me in the face, almost taking my breath away.
“The rooster crows as I trudge, pulling out of the way to check the depth of a drift. Inside the henhouse, I hurry to get their food and water out.
“Finally, I make sure the door is securely closed and rush to the warmth of the house and a cup of sweet, creamy, smooth hot chocolate before starting the long walk to Robinson School. “
It’s a wonderful memory, Louise, and wonderfully written. Thanks for sharing. I admit, it makes me want a cup of that hot chocolate you’re talking about. While I wish I would really like a clean driveway. Based on the forecast, I don’t think that will happen today.
Dan Tackett is a retired editor of The Courier. He can be contacted at [email protected]