By Susan Hartley
February 25, 2014
The sights, sounds, and smells of these snow days are a page from my childhood days in Plain City. But, there are no little children living in this neighborhood anymore and I want to hear their chirping voices and laughter. Where do they go to play?
Our small country town had only one well-worn hill for sledding but daily snowfalls refreshed it. Paraffin “borrowed” from the kitchen’s jelly-making supplies kept the runners slick. Cardboard boxes were fine when we didn’t have the real thing. I remember the unique squeaking sound from the frozen snow when we walked across it. The little creek that circled around our town was perfect for wading in the summer and safe for skating when winter arrived. Even knowing there was no cause for alarm, it was no less frightening to hear the protest of the ice when venturing away from the creek banks; nothing else has that deep threatening groan.
The stillness of the day was interrupted by the occasional snap of smaller tree branches, losing the battle of the increasing weight of the snow. I can still hear the sound of a roof full of snow, giving up the load in one large swooping sheet as it slid off the edge. All around were snow forts and snow men; we weren’t sophisticated (or brave) enough to make snow women with full, curvy bosoms. One of those could cost us the rest of the day in the house. Certain times of the early evening light, the snow created a fantasy scene, glistening with sprays of crushed diamonds. Breath-taking! Hanging low in the sky like a curtain was a curling thread of wood smoke that, with its aroma, lingered in the air.
I suppose I was like the other youngsters who wore out and outgrew shoes faster than the postwar families could afford. Remember, those shoes were made of processed paper; real leather and rubber had not yet returned to the civilian population and plastic was unheard of. In warm weather, I usually had shoes; in the winter, I didn’t always have boots. Maybe I lost them. (How often do you see a single shoe on a city street and wonder if anyone is out looking for it?) For some reason, our mother had the attitude that we were better than most others whether we had boots and shoes or not.
That was the reason I wasn’t allowed to spend much time with a friend, Mary.
Mary had shoes but her family lived in a house that was the property of the telephone company. Mary’s mother and older sister, Maggie, took turns at the switchboard in exchange for rent. The father wasn’t often home and was rarely sober enough to know it. The day that Mary invited me to spend the night with her, I didn’t happen to have boots. My wet shoes and socks were nearly frozen to my frost-bitten toes, which were so painful that I was crying quietly. I knew I was injured and needed to get home. I didn’t even ask Mother if I could sleep over.
Losing my boots may have saved my life. One night, in a drunken rage, Mary’s father went into their house with an axe and attacked his wife and daughter during their sleep, then went into the room with the switchboard to attack his older daughter. The three of them suffered severe head lacerations, one with a fractured skull, another with a concussion, all three with extensive defensive wounds. Maggie, at the switchboard, remained conscious and was able to put out calls for help. There was only one policeman in Plain City, a very small man with a tremendous amount of courage, who was able to get the crazed drunken man under his control. There must have been a trial but Plain City’s weekly newspaper didn’t carry any accounts that were detailed or widely read. We all knew that Mary’s father was in the prison at London and would never get out. I lost track of her until years later when I heard she’d married a doctor and had twins; they all lived together in a house and each had shoes and boots —Mother’s mark of social success.
Carolyn Stevens resides in Piqua. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 937-773-0750.