Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cold winter memories

Another forecast for winter weather and we’re all getting ready. We went to the grocery store and it was packed. Everyone was stocking up just in case. The odd thing was that there were no bananas. Banana? Really? So instead of that French toast igloo (milk, bread and eggs) you’re working on a banana-log house?

As we and everyone else stocked up--and with a forecast for 4-8” of snow in an area where there is maybe one snow plow per county and they’re usually on loan to the northern mountain area of our state it only makes sense, we noticed a lot of people buying fire wood as well. Our area is notorious for losing power to homes during winter weather or severe storms. All of this reminded me of winters back home in east-central Illinois. December, early January and March were known for ice storms while massive snow was usually in late January and February. And those winters are why I always want a fireplace or wood burning stove in my home…and a gas stove/oven.

When I was a kid, we had very little money. Not that I have much money now, but we make ends meet most months. Back then there was no cushion and the reality was that the money sometimes didn’t stretch. Cupboards sometimes ran bare. Bills were paid when they came on pink paper, cars were sometimes held together with coat hangers and duct tape, coaxed and nudged and rebuilt with hope and parts from a salvage yard. I’ve written before about how some Christmases, Santa found it all but impossible to get to our house.

I remember times when winter storms knocked out our power. Our furnace may have been gas, but without the electric powered blower, a gas furnace is all but useless. We didn’t have a fireplace in our trailers or in any of the houses we rented or the one my parents tired to buy with my step dad’s VA loan. So many winters’ days found us with blankets hung over the windows and doorways of the kitchen, blankets and pillows (or even couch cushions) scattered on the floor as we all used the heat from the oven trapped by the blankets to keep the room warm enough we didn’t freeze. Hot water bottles tucked in with us also helped to cut the chill.

Cold winters also meant frozen pipes. I remember a lot of winters where there was no running water and where one of my uncles or grandfather was under our trailer or in crawl space trying to unthaw water pipes with a propane torch or (later) a hair dryer. Heat tape is electric and not useful when there is not electricity. While we waited for a thaw, we hauled water from the Laundromat across the street or used the gas station bathroom. During one particular long spell, our toilet for number one was a Styrofoam ice chest that was poured into the toilet with a bit of precious water when it was full. Not exactly a happy healthy memory, but hey…it happened.

I look at a lot of my students these days, some the same age I was when much of this was part of my life, and wonder how they would handle adversity. I do think this current generation will have a better understanding of scraping, saving and self-denial than any generation has for a while. But I worry about the messages they are getting about what’s important. I know one 13 year old girl who still has her designer clothes and smart phone but told me how her family has lost their house. Another tells me how her dad is out of work, they have lost their house and she can’t afford to go on the field trip, but mom still drives a Hummer. I wonder if this will skew their priorities or if this generation will grow up rejecting the “me” status symbols of their parents. I sort of hope it will be the latter.

1 comment:

Sandra Cox said...

You were forged in fire, Jae. Kudos to the woman you are. I think the pendulum is swinging back, away from excesses.