Ready For Winter?

The Old Order Hath Changed.

                 Wow!  How the old order hath changed, for with the first nippy air heralding the coming of winter, I realize again that people “don’t get ready for winter” anymore.

Not too many years ago (Come on, now, who’s counting?) but this area was  very rural, and, “Hello, are you ready for winter?” was the common greeting.  And, as a kid at home, it seems that one of Mom and Dad’s first considerations of late summer was “to get in the coal”.  How else did one cook and keep warm?

At one time we had a coal shed and it was piled clear to the rafters when “the coal came”.  Later on, with house reconstructions,  Pop had it slid into the basement coal room, but either way, with the first blast of winter, everyone wanted to have stored all the coal they’d need for the long months ahead.

Mom always bought flour for the year, too.  I still don’t see the wisdom of this, but the big 50 lb. sacks of flour would arrive (of course everyone baked their own bread) and my parents would carefully store the flour in the cool attic on a special framework Dad had made for them.  Maybe flour and coal were cheaper in the summer.  I don’t know and who is there now left to tell us???  I can only give hints.

Putting up fruit kept our mother in a turmoil of work for at least six weeks in the late summer and early fall and it was this child’s delight to step to the basement and see the long shelves filled with the glorious colors of the fruit, pickles, sauces and tomatoes she ‘bottled’.  To me it meant good eating in the months to come and I was always glad when it snowed, for until then, Mom wouldn’t let us start using that good stuff.  It was food for winter, not summer or fall.

Pop built outside Root Cellars, too, and they were common to this area then.  Long trenches were dug, lined deeply with fresh clean straw and then vegetables, winter pears and apples were stored.  More straw covered the raw food and a deep layer of soil went over the top.  “Chimneys’ were built to ventilate the warm, buried food.

The idea was to keep everything cool enough to stay crisp but warm enough not to freeze and the idea was great.  The trouble was, however, that in the dead of winter,  getting through a foot of snow, to that frozen over-lay of  soil, then through the stiff, frozen straw and finally to the goal of it all, the vegetables snugly buried safely underneath.

It was a good trick also, to go for carrots, delve down through the three layers of snow, soil and straw, into the depths for where you were positive the carrots were, and instead find you had ‘hit’ parsnips, apples or cabbage.  Somehow nothing looked the same once snow arrived and the markers put up so carefully in the fall had a different look in the middle of January.

Besides that, it was always so darn cold that no one (well, it was always Dad’s job) wanted to take time to really survey the place.  Just dig, grab, cover again in the right order and then get back into the warm house.  And, something no one spoke of, but by the time winter was over, everything ‘down there’ tasted and smelled like the protective straw.  Oh well.

Just the same, to the child that I was, listening to the adults talk, I felt winter was a terrible threat that was held in abeyance only by Dad and Mom’s preparation of getting “ready for winter”.

Mom, with her chests full of clean quilts and blankets, basement shelves filled with fruit, and for heaven’s sake, I almost forgot, our winter long-arm and long-legged  underwear, dresses, jackets, coats, hats, pajamas, and mittens (not gloves), boots  and whatever else cold weather demanded.

That phrase, ‘Getting ready for winter’,  was a safety buffer to me and I felt nothing could harm me when I’d hear Dad say,   “Yes, we’re ready,”  in reply  to some neighbor’s query.  Upon hearing those three simple words, some spot within me relaxed for with them I knew all was right and safe with my world.

When you’ve been raised that way, that question was hard to put aside, for without all that work, preparation and storing away, who and what was to protect one from that Demon called Winter??

And, today, I watch two of my neighbors (their tie to past is their own business, not mine)  but it’s satisfying and gives me a good feeling to know that there are those who, in their own way,  still follow the customs I once knew so well.

And by the way, “Are you ready for Winter”?  Or do you even give it a thought?  Much less a ‘second thought’.

6 thoughts on “Ready For Winter?

  1. How I loved that article. I can still relate to some of it. The coal for instance was the most important domestic chore my father had besides his job. The shed could only be accessed by an alley in the street behind ours. After his late shift he would go down with the coal can, fill it up, walk it back to the house , go up the stairs and set the fire for the night. This was 1946-49, The Netherlands.

    • Wonderful comment. My dad would have the coal delivered and dumped at the inside end of the driveway where it would be snowed on and frozen. My brother and I would have to go outside after dinner and retrieve a five gallon bucket of coal. Man was it cold.

  2. Maria you are wonderful. I was sure that your c hildhood inthe Netherlands must have been close to mine . . . after all Sweden and Holland weren’t that far from each other. Hope all is well with you AND your family. I plug along and still keep reminding me that I a m now a centarian . . . and th at’s a lot of years. Love from me . . . . Ethel. and S O SO good to see your name here. God bless you.

  3. I love your statement:Upon hearing those three simple words, some spot within me relaxed for with them I knew all was right and safe with my world.
    Isn’t it marvelous how upon hearing certain statements made by loved ones or a trusted aunt or uncle make such an enormous impact on our own well being. There are certain things said year after year at the same time that could influence a family, a visit, a present at Christmas or a certain relative or members of family remind us of those traditional situations of comfort or cheer or alarm.
    On the subject of the root cellar I remember it being under the back stairs on the way to the basement. It was a mysterious place that we could not share.

  4. So glad to find your blog, Ethel! I followed and enjoyed your columns in the Murray Green Sheet, and this is like meeting a dear old friend again.
    Winter preparations were almost ceremonial, like “spring cleaning” was back in the day. My mother laundered and stretched lace curtain panels on sharp-pinned frames, cleaned the wallpaper with smelly pink goop, beat the daylight out of rugs on the clotheslines – tedious work unknown to young people now with modern conveniences to maintain the house.
    Your wisdom and humor are a blessing, and how wonderful you’re still among us to share them! I’ll enjoy you faithfully again – the written word unites us.
    My thanks and best wishes to you, Ethel.
    Molly

    • You made my day, or rather night, but it’s like meeting an old triend, truly, when I have some one refer to the good ole Murray, Green Sheet days. That was one really loved naborhood paper, and not only for my column )thank you, thank you) but for all of us down there. I shall let Jim Cornwell know of your words about ‘h is’ paper. He’s having a ‘bad’ time physically now. I leave a message for him over t he phone, however. He h ad Polio when a c hild, and that cursed disease comes back on people as they age. I know several to whom that has happened to. Bette Cornwell, who was also brains behind the running of that loved paper, but she passad on to the ‘ next Room of God’s a long time ago, and I miss her for s he and I became more like friends that Boss and employee. Oh, the past, the past, the past. Those good ole days, BUT Molly, for some reason God h as been good to me and while my days today, are different than back then, I still find much to rejoice over, and ONE OF THEM IS RECEIVING NOTES LIKE YOURS. Tjank y ou, Ethel

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