It's Friday and I'm sitting at my computer at home, looking out the window at the almost two feet of snow -- and the stuff that's whirling and swirling in the wind.
The man who plows our driveway hasn't arrived yet, and our street hasn't been plowed since last night. So, in a way, I'm having a "snow day," reminiscent of the ones I had many decades ago when I was in grammar and high school.
I remember the anticipation the night before a big storm: Would or would not school be called off? Would I be able to go sliding with my friends? Did I really have to do my homework, or would I have another day to do it?
Back when I was a child, in the days before home police and fire scanners and cell phones, the city used fire sirens to send out three-alarm fire alerts, calling in off-duty firefighters. One was located on top of the then-Drury High School on East Main Street, one on Mark Hopkins School and another, I believe, on the sewer treatment plant in the West End, and I'm sure there were others around the city.
If a structure fire was located near alarm box 114, the alarm would sound once, pause, sound once more, pause and sound four times in succession.
The siren also sounded daily at 8 a.m. and Fridays at 2 p.m. -- and on snow days, it would sound at 7:45 a.m. I can remember laying in bed on snowy days and praying the "whistle," as it was called, would sound at 7:45. Or I would lay there, as my mom got up and turned on the big radio in the kitchen to hear the school closings announced. And once the whistle sounded, or it was announced on the radio there would be no school, did I stay in bed? Heck, no! There were things to do, people to see and places to go. (Unlike today, where it's almost 10 a.m. and I'm still in my pajamas.)
I think you have to be of my generation -- or older -- to truly appreciate the ordeal of getting ready to go and play all day in the snow. The scene in the movie "A Christmas Story," where the mother wages a battle getting Ralphie's younger brother into his snowsuit, always brings back not-too-fond memories. There were no lightweight, but warm, fabrics in those days -- wool ruled.
The first layer of clothing was your everyday "play" clothes -- usually a pair of corduroy pants and a long-sleeved short. Next came a heavy wool sweater and heavy wool socks. Then came the snowpants, complete with suspenders and a bib. At this point, it was time to pause and pull on a pair of snow boots -- usually made of a flannel-lined rubber -- and buckle them up. Next came the winter coat with a hood. The finishing touches were a wool hat with earflaps and a pompom that tied under your chin, wool scarf and woolen mittens.
(Did I happen to mention how itchy wool was and how heavy and smelly it got when it was wet?)
After that came every mother's nightmare -- a needed trip to the bathroom. Then, the process would begin all over again.
Once outside, you had to decide just what kind of snow it was and whether a sled or a "flying saucer," as they were known as in those days, would be the better way of whooshing down the hill. The runners on the sleds and the saucers at that time were metal -- many a wet mitten got stuck while carrying it back up the hill. Every kid carried a wax candle stub in his or her pocket to run over the sled runners or the bottom of the saucer to make it slicker and go down the hill faster.
After a few runs to pack down the snow on the hill, it was time to build a mound of snow in the middle of the run that we would hit with our sleds or saucers and go flying into the air. Little did we know we were building what is known as a "jump" today, we just knew it was fun.
Although most of us had sleds or saucers, there were one or two kids in the neighborhood who had jack jumpers -- a wide ski with a raised seat attached. I was never able to make it more than a few feet down the hill on one before keeling over and sliding down the rest of the hill on my back, thanks to my slippery snowsuit.
At the end of the day, we would all trudge home, cold and exhausted, our cheeks red from the cold. I would strip off the wet, snow-crusted hats and mittens and put them on the kitchen radiator to dry, tucking my wet boots underneath.
Mom always had hot cocoa ready and waiting, though how she knew when I would be home I have no idea. In those days, hot cocoa was made from real milk and chocolate syrup. (All the families had a milkman who regularly delivered it in glass milk bottles.) And if I was really lucky, maybe some of her cookies were waiting too.
Homemade Hot Cocoa
Serves 4 to 5
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Mix first three ingredients in a saucepan and add enough milk to make a smooth paste. Add the rest of the milk and vanilla and beat thoroughly. Do not boil. Beat with rotary beater until foamy and serve. May be topped with whipped cream or marshmallow.
Makes 3 dozen
1/2 cup shortening (may use part butter)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or lemon extract
1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup seedless raisins
Mix shortening, sugar, egg and flavoring well. Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Stir into first mixture and add raisins. Roll into balls about the size of a walnut. Place about 3 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with a fork dipped in flour, making a criss-cross pattern. Bake 8 to 10 minutes at 400 degrees.