Winter! It is a season of storms, snow, wind, and rain. As a child, growing up in Northwestern Wisconsin, I found winter to be a magical season. From the crunch of the snow under my booted foot, to the snow fort dug or formed with blocks of snow, to the snowflakes falling against the darkened sky as I walked home from school in the early darkness; winter was magical.
But winter was cold. Our house was heated with a potbelly woodstove. I was probably 5 or 6 years old when we huddled around the warmth. But that too I found magical. The Saturday night bath in a washtub next to the stove was, less magical, but equally memorable.
In the early 1950’s, most likely 1953 or 54, the old ceramic water pipes in my hometown broke, just in our neighborhood. We were without running water. The weather was extremely cold, the below zero reading in those days did not have the wind chill add on, so the cold was 5 degrees below zero, 10 degrees below zero and more.
When you don’t have running water not much works; the toilets don’t flush, the dishes don’t get washed, clothes spill out of the clothes hamper. My father, a farm boy, was in a quandary for about a day. Then he took action. He found washtubs, copper tubs with lids, galvanized washtubs with handles, any large container and took those containers to the 40 acres of land we owned in the country. On the “forty” were three springs that have been running for over 150 years of family recorded history.
My father filled those tubs with water. The springs never froze. It was hard work. Water is heavy. There were a lot of tubs. Once he filled those tubs with water, carefully placed in the back of his old pick up truck, he brought that water back to our neighborhood. He delivered water to the “widow women” that were plentiful in our neighborhood. He brought water into our home. He invited neighbors who could carry their own water to come and visit the springs on the forty.
I don’t remember how long the repairs on the ceramic pipes took, but it seems like we lived with water out of tubs for a long time. We flushed our toilets with water. It was then I learned the old rural limerick, “If it’s brown flush it down, if it’s yellow let it mellow.” We bathed with spring water, washed our clothes in heated spring water. It is was all we had.
Winter is a time of memory and reflection, a time to think, as the winds and snow, the rain and the temperature changes, slow us down and make us do things “differently” because of nature and the wonder of weather.
Since those days of winter from a time that seems long ago, I’ve experienced a series of “magical seasons”: winter, spring, summer and fall. But when the wind blows and the snow falls I think back to those magical days when I was 5 or 6 years old and the pipes froze and we had to haul our water; when the snowflakes were the size of silver dollars, and the snow crunched under our booted feet.