A grandpa remembers winter

When I was 8, the snow raced ahead of a growling, snarling wind and tumbled in huge drifts behind the chicken house and across the lane leading to the front gate. Its dry breath turned the surface of the snow into a crust as hard as peanut brittle. It birthed a thousand babies and sent them as icy chills through the walls of the old frame house and into my bedroom.
The chills crept under my bed, sneaked into my closet, wiggled into my dresser, found my clothes, and sucked out every bit of warmth. When it finished with my room, I knew it would encircle the wash basin in the hallway and coat the water with ice the thickness of my little finger.
I snuggled down, shivered, and feared the moment I’d have to climb out of bed and put on those chilly clothes. Outside, Jack Frost climbed the walls and with his frigid brush painted glistening white pictures on every window. The mercury in the thermometer retreated into the bulb at the bottom and the trees in the grove groaned in agony.
When I was 8, the school van slid over the snowy roads on sleigh runners behind two big horses who wore their breath like icy beards clinging to their jaws. The van travelled without headlamp or taillight in the early-morning prairie darkness. We scraped Jack Frost’s artwork from the window pane and peered into the inky early morning to watch for the signal from the driver’s flashlight as the van descended into the coulee a half mile away.
When we saw it, Mother wrapped our scarves around our faces, helped button our coats and tie down the earflaps on our hats. We snapped shut the clasps on our boots, grabbed our lunch buckets and mitts, and hurried out the door. After climbing over drifts, breaking through the snow’s crust, and sliding down the coulee bank on our bottoms, we climbed into the van.
The driver pushed a stick of wood into the little stove that glowed red hot, jiggled the reins, and we began our two-hour ride to school to the merry sound of sleigh bells.    
When I was 8 on a winter weekend, with the help of neighbour kids, we muscled the snow from the pond in the coulee bottom, exposing its icy face to the frowning, grey-blue winter sky. We’d pushed and shovelled, scraped and groaned, and piled snow into walls around our rink-for-a-night. With axe and saw, we dismembered a dead poplar, dragged its severed parts to the edge of the pond, and built them into a pyramid-shaped bonfire. When daylight faded and the moon and stars turned the heavens into a massive display of God’s handiwork, the people came.
They parked their ancient cars in the yard and their teams in the barn or shed. They walked down the hill with skates tossed over shoulders and friendship lodged in their hearts. They skated in pairs or raced each other.
They played crack-the-whip with me always on the end to go spinning into a snow pile. I’d stand by the fire long enough to dry the intruding snow from my clothes, and then back I’d go for more. I hated the cold and the tumbles and my ill-fitting skates, but I craved the comradeship.  When I was 8, the world turned more slowly, winters felt colder, friendships burned hotter, money rarely intruded into our lives, stars glowed brighter, and life danced from one adventure to another. 
When I was 8 in the wintertime. 

Ray Wiseman