Barefoot in the Snow, and Uphill Both Ways

These trees weren’t there when we were small, so we slide unimpeded down to the lake

Kate Flora: Recently someone posted a photo on facebook of kids with backpacks walking through the snow, which started some of us joking about how when we were kids, winter was WINTER. Yes, when we were kids, we sometimes walked home a couple miles through the snow. It wasn’t all uphill or downhill, but a combination of both, but choosing to walk meant we wouldn’t have to ride on the bus for over an hour before it was our turn to be dropped off.

We lived on a hill top, in an 1811 farmhouse. Because we were above Sennebec Pond, someone, probably our mother, dubbed it Sennebec Hill.

Skating on the pond across the street

There really were more serious winters back then, with snow piles big enough to build igloos, and sometimes the pond would freeze and we could skate for miles. Our mother, always anxious about her children falling through the ice or down a well, wouldn’t let us onto the pond until our father had gone down with his ax and chopped a hole in the ice to make sure it was thick enough. Then we could skate.

If you’ve never skated on a frozen pond, let me say that it is an experience. Later in the day, when the warmth of the day has expanded the ice and the cold is contracting it, there were be huge booming crashes and sudden crack lines running beneath your feet. Scary and exciting. Sometimes we could watch ice boats racing down the pond, and sometimes ice fishermen would drive their trucks right out onto the ice. An anxious child, I always worried that the insanely fast ice boats would crash and those trucks would disappear beneath the ice. I wonder now, looking back, whether my anxiety about all the bad things that could happen was a precursor to my present career. I definitely do make a lot of bad things happen.

At this season, during one of those Maine Decembers, we would be putting the finishing touches on the gifts we would be sending

When you’re a kid, you don’t need much snow to go sledding. You don’t even need a sled.

to friends and relatives in New York and New Jersey. We didn’t have money for gifts, but we could bake and we had a hundred acres of woods. While my father scoured the woods and fields for tiny plants and made terrariums in little glass bowls, we would help bake dozens of cookies of different kinds and pack them in tins. I would go out to the woods, cut balsam branches, then chop them into tiny pieces to stuff the balsam pillows I sewed on our trusty Singer machine.

Sometimes it would rain atop the snow and there would be a fierce crust of ice. That meant we could flatted cardboard boxes into sleds and fly down the slopes to the pond. Of course, getting back up those slippery hills could be a challenge, especially if the ice was so thick we couldn’t kick holes for our feet to climb back up. There were times when our ascent was on hands and knees. Still, there was little as exciting as sliding down those hills, hoping we’d make it to the bottom while also hoping we wouldn’t run into a tree. The stream through the field beside the house was especially challenging, as it froze into a thick, slick river of ice right down into a briar patch and a swamp.

I don’t miss shoveling snow, or that long walk home, but sometime I’d again like to skate on a frozen pond or dig an igloo for the newest generation.


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17 Responses to Barefoot in the Snow, and Uphill Both Ways

  1. Lois says:

    Wonderful memories!

  2. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    Love this. It reminded me of walking through snowdrifts a mile to high school (pre-bus) with an armful of books (pre-backpack) and a cello. Needless to say, my musical career was cut short.

  3. susanvaughan says:

    What a lovely look back to a simpler time and colder winters. Thanks, Kate.

  4. John Clark says:

    And there was the brother who went down both hills on a runner sled and head first into a birch tree. I hear his marbles are still a bit scrambled. Remember when Ronnie Hawes would plow a huge circle on Seven Tree Pond so everyone could skate at night while warming up by a tire fire on the ice? Those were good winter memories.

  5. Alice says:

    Kate, you probably know my connection to memoir writing; this piece of yours is a true gem.
    Growing up on Long Island, NY (yes, when snow was more frequent & deeper) I recall a blizzard in the 40’s that shut down everything. My sisters & I built a snow fort about 5 feet high and we went sledding on a nearby golf course..

  6. matthewcost says:

    The late bus after sporting practices and games would drop me a bit over a mile from my home. I remember many a walk in freezing weather at midnight. During the day I hitchhiked as it was ten miles to school.

  7. Hitchhiking was frowned on for children, Matt. On the other hand, most of the people driving by were neighbors, and if it was very cold, they’d stop.

  8. kaitcarson says:

    What great memories! I learned to skate on a frozen pond. The first time I was on rink ice, I kept looking for the bumps! My New Jersey town used to close off one of the main streets on weekends because it was the terminus of our sliding hill. The folks who lived in the house on the far side of the street would serve hot cocoa to any kids who managed to slide to their door – or any kid who asked for it. One memorable day I wore the seat out of my snowsuit. I hadn’t brought my sled, but all my friends were sliding – I think I was five and had to walk the mile home literally freezing my butt. It was fine, though. My mother warmed it right up for me when I got home. Snowsuits were expensive!

    • Great story, Kait. Snowsuits were expensive. You wore them until the wedgie became impossible. There was a woolen mill near us that made warm red wool and we had the wool snow pants and matching red jackets. Thinking back, I feel so sorry for first grade teachers, trying to get 30+ kids into their snow gear for recess. And the boots with buckles or an elastic that had to go over a button? Haven’t thought of these in years.

      • Alice says:

        Had totally forgotten those very difficult boot buckles! and, remember the smell of wet woolen clothing?

  9. Tina Swift says:

    Thank you for reminding me of the creaking and groaning of the moving ice on the frozen pond. And, I too would love to skate again but think it not prudent at my age.

    • Alice says:

      Prudence is wise. 3 weeks ago I went to sit at my computer but the chair rolled away & I landed on the floor with a broken hip. No more skating for me when sitting becomes a danger.

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