Blog Note: I wrote this piece for the friends in my hometown. No fires, no fire trucks, no HOT topics and no politics. Just some childhood memories that, if you take the time to read, it may lift your spirits and unlock your mind to reveal similar memories of your own. It may give you a moment of pause to remember a simpler, innocent time in your life when you didn’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Enjoy!
As I sit here on a Sunday afternoon, it has started to snow once again.
I am proud to say that I have not missed a Midwestern winter since birth.
We have had winters with very little snowfall, but extremely cold temperatures; winters with crazy amounts of snow, but not too many subzero days and then my favorite-crazy amounts of snow and crazy low temperatures. This would be snow that fell, the top would freeze overnight to a nice, crunchy crust and when you shoveled it the next day, it was not a shovelful; it was a section that broke incongruently, but always bigger than the shovel itself and heavy!
As a youngster in wintery Galva Illinois, I was never too concerned about snow amounts, as long as there was enough coverage for sledding and the temperature allowed for Sportsman’s Lake to freeze for ice-skating. The skating rink at Wiley Park that came under the control of Herb Rodgers was not born yet.
My older sisters had skates, but apparently, a kid who learned how to swim at four years old was not old enough to get up on two blades and propel himself across the ice with great velocity and with little concern for drowning; a skill that I almost learned before I learned how to swim (Life-saving props to LeeAnn Bruegman Doubler, Helen Hulstrom and Mom).
No; I got to go to the Lake, but my time was spent sliding around on the ice in my boots and playing with my sled in the snow that blanketed the hills around the lake. And if I could talk them into it, my sisters might take turns pulling me around on the ice with the rope attached to my sled. It is interesting to note that MY sled was made of steel and wood. Today’s sleds are simply hunks of plastic.
And snow saucers?
Well, if you have ever watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, our saucers were just like that-aluminum and shiny! Today’s saucers are more plastic crap from the manufacturers.
I mean, at least make it a little exciting by using a car tire innertube that is so fast on packed snow that it will gain speed UP hill. Your eyes will water, you won’t see the tree that is in your path, you can’t steer the tube anyway and when you bounce off the tree and are separated from your inflated snow chariot, it will be the most fun that you will ever have while engaged in a death-defying winter tradition. AND, performed without a helmet.
Was it a physics problem-your rate of speed going downhill and the energy exerted from impacting the stationary giant oak tree is in direct proportion to the number of missing teeth-or just good ole fashioned winter frolicking? Go ask the Swedish Santa, which brings me to….
Every Christmas season, Harold Smith would transform the Gamble’s store’s downstairs into Toyland. The north corner was reserved with a big chair that found Santa dutifully sitting there taking our requests for Christmas and replying in a thick Swedish accent. Years later, while watching The Muppets Show on TV, the Swedish Chef would come on and I would think of Carl Lusth. I should go get my slippers, red velvet smoking jacket and Grabel pipe….Ahhhh!
I couldn’t get enough of Toyland. If I heard Dad say that he had to go to Gamble’s, I would ask to go also. While Dad was taking care of his business, I would sneak downstairs to marvel and wish and dream about all the toys that I saw. It made me light-headed. Then, Dad would yell down at me and I snapped right up the steps to hurry home so I could write my Santa list while it was still fresh in my mind.
I didn’t always get what I wanted for Christmas, but I chalked it up to the needier kids getting favor with Santa.
Wait a minute. I WAS NEEDY! Oh well; as the die-hard Cubs fan used to say: “there’s always next year”.
A few more years went by and I got my first pair of skates-hockey skates. I remember that I wasn’t too crazy about getting them, because just by looking at them, I knew getting stopped on them was going to be a problem for me. And besides that, I wouldn’t take up hockey until I was a teen-ager and all the cool kids were doing it. The girls would watch…and whisper…and giggle…then point at nothing in particular, but it was undeniable: the girls liked watching us play hockey.
But, back to my childhood.
I started attending Sunday school at Grace Methodist Church. It was also in that same year that I got my skates. This changed the dynamics of my Sundays for years to come, because the church was setting up all kinds of activities for us. There was the Christmas program, Christmas caroling, sledding parties that had us returning to the church for hot cocoa made with milk and cookies made by the ladies in our church. To this day, I cannot stand the taste of hot chocolate that is made with water. Believe me; I can taste the difference.
With regards to our Christmas program; I never got the starring role of playing Joseph. No; I would never rise above playing a wise man. But, we sang “Silent Night” at the end of our play and I would belt it out like the Chairman of the Board himself. That’s Frank Sinatra for the youngsters.
Our Christmas caroling would take us to the front sidewalk of selected shut-ins, who were very appreciative, even though they were standing in the doorway freezing their tails off.
What really sticks out as a caroling memory was going to Wasson Nursing Home. We would go inside where it was warm and sing for the infirmed. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t even know who Wasson was, but I remember the really cool clock that was in the front yard of the home.
Our church sledding parties would take us to Bishop Hill. The church in Bishop Hill was affiliated with Grace Methodist Church at the time. We would join up with the Bishop Hill kids and go out to Wayne Chilberg’s farm to sled. His property to the west had a great hill that was steeply pitched and long. After sledding in the afternoon, we returned to the church for hot cocoa and cookies.
Once I was confirmed and we moved to the north side of town, I stopped going to church on a regular basis, but would go to programs at the Presbyterian church or First Methodist every now and then.
By this time, Herb Rodgers was doing a masterful job of building and maintaining the skating rink at Wiley Park. He used a hose and nozzle from the fire department and on many freezing nights, Herb would be at the skating rink laying down layer after layer of water that would become ice with a mirror finish. His secret to such a smooth finish was placing the nozzle on fog stream, which was a mist and the mist would freeze as soon as it hit the ice. If it snowed, he could be found clearing the ice with a snow shovel. For kids without skates, Herb had extra pairs that he would loan them. He also sharpened skates.
Saturdays and Sundays would see heavy use of the skating rink. We weren’t allowed to play hockey when it was that busy. We would play late evening and the girls would pretend to work on their pirouette skills. Back then, a hockey stick could be purchased for a buck fifty at Gamble’s and a puck was a dollar. I would wrap the blade of the stick with electrical tape to protect it and to give it longevity. Dad could never figure out why he was always out of electrical tape, but he started hiding it and I wouldn’t ask where it was so as not to give away my secret.
Winter and the Christmas season was a magical time in Galva back then. Loading up the station wagon with all of us and then driving around town to look at all of the Christmas decorations. I was fortunate to live in a house on the north side that was a “Candy Cane Lane” house. I got to help the men collect the candy canes from the various houses and assemble them in front of their houses. Some of the guys were drinking something called Brandy to stay warm. I had to rely on my long underwear.
And the Candy Cane Lane lights that declared to those who entered to be prepared to see candy canes, was strung on poles in front of Harley Howe’s house and Leo Windish’s.
I would love to have those lights now. It’s a good thing that I can close my eyes and see them.
Have a blessed holiday season and a very Merry Christmas!
The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, also known as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of www.fireengineering.com, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or any of their subsidiaries. All articles by the author are protected by copyright under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella and cannot be reproduced in any form without explicit permission from the article’s author.