January 9, 2013

Drying mittens, sledding part of childhood memories

By SUSAN TOBIAS, Pinch of Time

---- — Toby and I have decided we are getting old because we thoroughly enjoyed being home this Christmas and not in a snowstorm someplace in Kansas. 

Thanksgiving and Christmas normally find us on the road driving to Colorado Springs to visit our daughter and her family. We really do miss our family in Colorado, but hopefully the price of gas will go down this year and make it less costly to drive 4,000 miles. 

We did, however, experience a blinding snowstorm in Churubusco on our way to a housewarming. Our granddaughter and her husband bought a home in Constable, and you have to drive through that other country called “Ellenburg-Churubusco” with its own weather pattern.

My retired trucker husband didn’t bat an eyelid in the whiteouts. I just closed my eyes and prayed, especially when a little black car went up the middle of the two lanes of traffic. He did not get far, because it was so greasy on the roads that everybody else was going 35. He eventually turned toward Churubusco. I hope he lives to see summer again. 

It was exciting to decorate our Christmas tree this year, but we found out it takes us longer than it did just a few years ago. The 7-foot forest-grown tree smelled wonderful and looked beautiful, but it took us three days to place ornaments, lights and all that glitters. After it was done — lit with a variety of bubbling lights and fairy stars — we were mesmerized by the creation, recalling lots of childhood memories. 

We reminisced about how exciting it was to trek into the woods to cut down a real tree; how excited he was to receive one gift and some fruit in his stocking. A wooden toy and even socks were appreciated in the 1930s. Seems a long way from the commercialism of Christmas today.

This time of year brings back great memories of school plays, making paper chains for the classroom and a gift for the teacher, always a gift for the teacher. Flanders Elementary School in Malone is where I attended the first four years of my schooling. Who can forget the clanging of the radiators heating up to provide more heat or the smell of snow-caked mittens drying on the radiators after recess? 

Toby talked about wearing “galoshes.” For the younger generation, those were black rubber boots with a metal-grated clasp that came halfway up your calf and folded over tight to keep your feet dry. He cannot remember his feet ever getting wet, as opposed to today’s boots. I used to put plastic bags on my kids’ feet, inside their boots, to make sure they didn’t get wet when they went out to play.

Back then, we wore snow pants that eventually got soaked, but we still trudged through the snow, dragging our Radio Flyer sled (that you steered with your feet) up the hill for the umpteenth time, only to slide down again.

The Salmon River flows peacefully through my hometown of Westville. One particular spot would freeze solid during January, and we’d avail ourselves of the opportunity to ice skate. My dad and the neighbors would shovel all the snow into the middle, making a rectangular skating rink. The bonfire was blazing on the shoreline for frequent visits to warm up, and we anticipated the hot chocolate to come. 

In fifth grade, I had the privilege to attend the Cushman Corner one-room schoolhouse in Westville. I didn’t think it was so wonderful at the time, after the beautiful brick Flanders in Malone, but now am so happy I had that experience. 

A daily recess in winter meant mittens drying near the woodstove while we had afternoon classes. Lunch from a lunch pail or brown bag was looked forward to when it was accompanied by a thermos of hot soup.

I came to appreciate my lunches more when one disadvantaged family with six kids had to eat green-tomato sandwiches all fall and bread and butter sandwiches in the wintertime. My mother would send extra cookies or cake to share with one of the girls. 

Wintertime pursuits and school activities like we enjoyed are experienced today by very few kids. It was hard back then, but we didn’t know it was hard and we didn’t have anyone shooting at us. Our biggest fear was to get caught chewing gum. My how times have changed. 

One last thought, as always, please be kind to each other. The world needs more kindness.

Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy. Reach her by email at