Wednesday, November 27, 2013

First Flakes

When I see the first snowflakes of the season, I always get a little excited.  If I looked in the record books, I could find out if snows were heavier in the '50s and '60s.  Of course, in the '50s I was young, ergo short.  I grew up in the country.  It could have been a farm, but we let it go fallow.  The border between our land and the neighbor's land made a natural snow fence, creating drifts that I remember being a million stories high.

Of course, I was short.

But the drifts truly were high.  Several feet anyway.  My siblings back me up on this.  We had our own dogs...they were the family's dogs, but the cocker spaniel was my sister's dog and a large mutt whose mother was a German shepherd and whose father was a golden something or other favored me.  Rusty, the cocker spaniel, would get weighed down in snowballs.  She was close to the ground and had longish fur, fur that snow loved.

George, my mutt, loved snow.  George loved everything, even baths, but he really loved snow.  He'd try to catch snowballs.  If he did, he didn't act as if he were fooled.  No, he was ready for the next.  If you poked a hole in the snow, he'd drive his nose into it and give it a good search before he gave up.

Because the drifts were so tall, we shoveled steps to the top.  Usually the snow was deep enough to hold all of us.  George ran around, perhaps to make sure it was safe for us, perhaps just because he could.  He knew how to play King of the Drift and would try very hard to keep us -- me in particular -- from getting to the top.  Concentrating on one of us made it possible for another of us to sneak up the drift and then he'd try to attack the other kid.  Not attack...just try to keep them from taking his Top Dog.

He also loved to chase after us when we'd sled on our property.  We had a couple of pretty good, long runs.  He'd take off beside us and run alongside.  He loved it when we fell off the sled.  He knew we weren't hurt and would grab hold of a coat sleeve or glove and start shaking his head like crazy.  All we could do was stay on the snow while he was shaking us and try to get up when he'd had enough.

I wonder if we'll ever have winters of snows like that.  Back then, we didn't have built-in snow days, so we'd have to make up time.  One winter we had so much snow we had school on two Saturdays.  Another year we went to mid-June.

We lived just outside Gap, a small town in Lancaster County.  Maybe 600 people lived there.  In the '50s, people weren't as rushed, didn't feel they had to brave storms to get somewhere.  Snow meant the regular world stopped.  When a certain amount of snow fell, we'd get our sleds and take to the streets.  Gap is on a hill.  If there wasn't a lot of snow, parents would be on the look-out for cars, and drivers knew kids would probably be sledding; if there was a lot of snow, nobody was going anywhere anyway, so the streets were ours.  We had three streets to choose from.  One ran from the top of the hill where the lane to our place began and which then ran into town.  A second started at the lumber yard and picked up the same street in town, and that involved making a turn, which added to the fun.  The third was Gap's main drag, and the hill was long and amazingly steep.  And not just because I was short.  I've looked at it as an adult and it's a steep hill.  We'd start at the top, at the hardware store, and zoom downhill for two blocks and then hit the level part, but the built-up speed let us coast for maybe another half block.  Plus there was the added thrill of going over a really small bridge...up the ramp, coast for a microsecond, and then fly for a bit until the sled hit the street again.

Now, the snow plows and salt trucks are out at the sight of the first flake.  The world does not go on hold because of a snow storm. And it's a shame.  Sledding on park hills is fine, but the space is limited.  It's safe, it's fun and it's legal.  (Gap had no government and the only police were state police, and they came in only by complaint.)  And it's wholesome and pasteurized and programmed.  A little daring can be a good thing.