A Warm Memory of Cold Winter Nights
ca - mid-1930s Although Marilyn, Buddy and Jeannie were only summertime “country kids”, there were occasions during the colder months when we would visit our grandparents in Purdys — Thanksgiving and Christmas most notable, but other weekend visits as well. Either snowfalls were a lot deeper back then, or perhaps it was just that I was a whole lot shorter, but I remember snows well above my waist. I also remember sitting in an unheated car under a shedding leopard lap robe, while my father helped to dig out the stuck town snow-plow so that it, and we, could continue on our respective journeys. I have to tell you at the outset that, although I played in the snow and went sledding, as most children do - I have never been much enamored of cold weather. I am, and always have been, a warmth and sunshine kid. And Purdys was cold in the winter. The house, uninsulated and unheated, derived what warmth there was from the large iron cooking stove in the kitchen… and, by the Grace of God, some sunny days. No offense intended to the Good Lord, but the stove was the more dependable source of heat, and was kept going perhaps twenty of every twenty-four hours. I think there may have been a kerosene heater or two, but my memory is vague about that. The only rooms that were ever approaching comfortable were the kitchen and the adjoining sitting room. All other rooms were closed off. The upstairs bedrooms were freezing. Which brings me to the point of this particular story. We children hated bedtime because we had to climb out of our warm clothes and into pajamas - teeth chattering and whimpering and hollering the whole time. Until we got into bed. Jenny had devised her own version of sleeping bags for each of us. A large blanket was folded in half, bottom to top, stitched up the sides, and snaps sewn across the top. We would each be snapped in - and settle on to a soft feather mattress, and be covered over with a feather comforter. It felt like being wrapped inside of a large soft fluffy cloud. Instantly, within a split second we felt overwhelmed by a delicious, toasty warmth. We accused Jenny of heating the beds with hot water bottles, but she said not - that it was just the feathers that felt so warm. We kids always felt that there must have been some mysterious magic involved. But then again, the whole world is mysterious and magical to imaginative six or seven-year olds. Then we recited the “Now I lay me down to sleep…” mantra, known to so many children the world over. Grandma then assured each of us that we were as “snug as a bug in a rug”. I wonder if there was ever a child in the 1930s who was tucked into bed without hearing that phrase. We slept cozy and warm until morning when we had to gather up our cold clothes and repeat the mad dash through unheated rooms until we reached the welcome warmth of the kitchen and were able to dress next to the wood stove. We would then fill up little bellies with oatmeal, cornmeal mush or whatever breakfast porridge Grandma had cooking on that blessed wood stove. At this point I ask your indulgence to allow an old woman a bit of sticky sentimentality… Reliving those experiences in my mind I have come to believe that the source of all that warmth that we felt when snuggling into our beds on those cold winter nights had to do with neither magic nor feathers, but the abundance of love by which we were surrounded.