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Dozens of people have sent me the same picture; it's a signboard that reads: "Say what you will about the south, but no one retires and moves north." It still humors me. Although I'm not a big fan of the heat associated with the south, that's not the most significant flaw I find in the message. I always have to tell these people, “I'm not retired; I'm just between jobs."
Admittedly, while between jobs, I did move to northern Minnesota, where I enjoy the cooler climate. We don't get sweltering temperatures in the summer, and I love the cold and snowy winters. But this type of winter is not for everyone, especially people who say they hate snow. I read a social media post that might help these poor misguided souls.
"If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow." That's profound. I wish I were the one who wrote that, but I'm not, so I will quote it as 'author unknown.'
I've always lived where five months of the year came with cold weather and snow; in a word, winter: Montana, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and now Minnesota. I like snow and always have.
As a kid, we'd listen intensely to the radio station impatiently waiting for the morning disc jockey to speak those four glorious words: "School is canceled today." When he finally said it, we'd jump up and down celebrating. Cheers echoed through the house as the word spread, "There's no school today." It was as if our favorite team had just won the championship game in overtime against a detested rival.
With this news, some of my brothers and sisters went back to bed, while others scrambled to find boots, hats, scarves, gloves, and of course, extra socks.
Mom had a large wicker basket of mis-matched socks. If we didn't have snow boots, we'd put on two pairs of socks, then slip a plastic bread bag over our foot, followed by another sock, then the shoe. Even though our shoes would get wet, the plastic kept our feet dry so that we could stay outside longer.
When gloves or mittens weren't available, a pair (or two) of socks on your hands worked just as well.
There was a lot to be done on a snow day:
The neighborhood kids would gather and roll big snowballs to build snowmen and snow forts to take cover from fast-flying snow projectiles. We always started off with teams, but inevitably teammates would turn on one another, and it became a free-for-all. The walls of the snow fortress no longer offered protection as many snowballs came from a teammate within the same fort!
Snowball fights weren't my favorite thing to do because, frankly, I wasn't that good; it’s hard to throw a snowball with socks on your hands, but I still participated. Sooner or later, someone was going to get hit a little too hard. Then, tempers flared, and warm tears rolled down cold cheeks. Some of the kids stomped away angry to their houses, but always came back out.
Inside the house, we'd toss our wet clothes in the dryer. Boots and shoes made a thundering racket tumbling inside the drum! Socks, gloves, and hats were set on top of heat registers to dry, along with cold hands to be warmed. When our clothes were dry enough, we'd get dressed again and make our way to a nearby hill for snow sledding. Sleds with steel rails were only good when the snow was packed down.
To prepare the sledding site, we'd go screaming down the hill on a saucer or rolled up plastic sled; they were the fastest. School lunch trays that were "borrowed" from the cafeteria, were also great for sledding. A cookie sheet or a turkey roasting pan would work for the smaller kids - even a big piece of cardboard would do. As long as it was smooth on the bottom, it was a potential for sledding. Of course, the more we packed down the snowy hill, the faster the sleds went.
Albeit dangerous, bumper skiing was an exciting event where skiers soon learned the hazards of a dry patch on the road. Unfortunately, the sport resulted in headaches, not from hitting the pavement but crouching down behind a running car right next to the tailpipe. Just a couple of runs in this event always left me queasy and nauseous. Bumper skiing wasn't the only risky thing we did in the snow.
In Iowa, we would pull a saucer sled or an inner tube tied to a long rope behind Dad's red and grey Ford 8N tractor. On the tube, you'd hold on for dear life when the tractor picked up speed, then suddenly turned sharply. The sled whipped on the end of the rope, crossing perpendicular over the plowed rows of a snow-covered cornfield. Wiping out hurt, and much like bull riding, there was no stopping the tractor until the rider had been launched. I'm still amazed that we never broke any arms or legs doing this. Still, pulling sleds behind a tractor wasn't the most dangerous thing I did.
When I was fifteen years old, my older brother Gerard and I bought identical motorcycles at Jerry Smith's Cycle Ranch; – bright blue Kawasaki KZ400s, with a gold and black stripe. Mine sat in the garage (as far as Dad knew), waiting for me to turn sixteen to get my driver's license. My birthday is in November, so being one who loved the cold and snow anyway, as soon as I had my license, I rode the motorcycle all winter long.
One day, riding in fresh snow, I was stopped at a red light, heading south on Highway 63. A car was coming up behind me, and I knew it wasn't going to get stopped, so I tried to get moving. Unfortunately, the car slid into my rear tire, shooting me through the intersection like a rock coming out of a sling-shot. I shot right between two cars coming off the cross street. Woodland Avenue. Fortunately, I didn't get hurt.
The guy who hit me had a pipe-wrench and helped me pull my bent fender away from the rear tire so I could ride home. "You shouldn't be riding that thing in the snow!" He warned me.
I probably sounded like a smart-aleck teenager when I replied, "Would it have made a difference if I was in my car? You still would have hit me; you need to slow down." The man gave me a dirty look and his information, saying he would pay for the fender. I did partially heed his advice; "From now on, if it's snowing, I'll stay off the highway."
A week later, I rode my motorcycle in the snow heading south on North Court Street, which parallels Highway 63. A car was approaching the stop sign on Woodland Avenue. I could tell she wasn't going to get stopped, and oncoming traffic kept me from trying to swerve around her. The car slid through the stop sign; I hit the front left fender and flew over my handlebars, smacking my mirror with my knee! I bounced off her hood, then tumbled and skidded across the snow-covered street.
The lady jumped out of her car and came running to see if I was hurt. I got up from the pavement, trying to remove the snow that packed into my helmet and was freezing my cheek. "Are you okay," she asked, quite shaken herself. "I couldn't get stopped, and it just happened so fast, and…"
"I'm okay, just a little banged up," I said while brushing snow off my chest and pants. "Is my motorcycle okay," I asked while limping back to the other side of her car to check it out.
A police car pulled up with his lights on; Ron Tolle was the officer; I knew him. I had never been in an accident before, and his presence made me feel more at ease. "Is anyone hurt," he asked? "Tom, are you okay? Do you want me to call an ambulance?" I assured him I was okay.
Officer Tolle helped me lift the broken bike lying on its side, back up on its wheels, and put down the kickstand. The headlight was still on, but the motor wasn't running; I turned the key off, then assessed the damages. Ron walked around the bike with me. The front forks were bent and pushed inward to the frame, the left turn signal had broken off, and one mirror was knocked loose. "Did someone hit you from behind, too," he asked? "How did your back fender get smashed up?"
"That happened last week," I pointed down the street, "on the other end of Woodland Avenue. A car hit me from behind on the highway."
The officer shook his head, "You shouldn't be riding this thing in the snow!" He warned me. I turned the key on, pulled in the clutch, and pushed the button - the motor fired right up. Ron must have read my mind, "You can't ride this home Tom, I’ve already called a wrecker to tow it."
The tow truck arrived and Bill Carr got out. "Are you alright," he asked while putting on his gloves. I told him I was, then he said, "You shouldn't be riding this thing in the snow. Does your dad know you're riding a motorcycle in the snow?" I stood there quietly as he lifted my bike with his wench. He read the side of the gas tank, "Kawasaki. Do you want me to take it out to Jerry Smith's or drop it off at your folks' house?"
When Jerry Smith saw the motorcycle, in his soft, always gentle voice, he said, "You know Tom, you shouldn't be riding this on snowy roads; it's not the right type of bike for that."
With time, I got smarter, I still rode my motorcycle all winter, but when it was snowing, I drove my car instead. What a thrill it was (and still is) cutting cookies in a parking lot covered with fresh snow in my car.
A few things have changed as I got a little older and had a little more money: I prefer a snowblower over a shovel, I bought a six-foot toboggan, but I think I would still ride a sheet of cardboard down the hill. I have warm boots and gloves now, and my aim has improved - I like throwing snowballs at my wife, daughters, and grandkids.
I don't think that will ever change for me; I still love the cold and snow. With hot cocoa, and wood fires in the stove, winter isn't just a season – it's a special feeling.
It is true, "If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow." Author unknown.