I gathered special winter memories of years gone by for this January article. Some mentioned are still with us; others have passed. I hope you enjoy the memories.
Elder John Kline left a detailed diary giving us a glimpse of otherwise forgotten happenings of his day. After a deep snowfall in January 1856, he describes one spectacular night when hundreds of sleighs of all varieties graced the streets of Harrisonburg.
Marium (Crider) Selke recalled that when the ground was snow-covered, Joe Whitmer, their neighbor, harnessed his horses and attached them to a makeshift sled. It was a wagon with sides and seats mounted on sled runners. “He had sleigh bells attached to the horses’ harnesses, and we children were delighted when we heard the sound of bells ringing across the field. Bundled up in our winter clothes, we enjoyed a memorable ride to school. Cold weather meant Christmas was near. We made decorations for our classroom tree and practiced our program to present to our parents each year. No matter how small, every child had a part in the program.
Bob Ritchie related that the kids would gather for fun after a good snowfall. A fifty-foot rope attached between a scrap car hood and a horse’s saddle horn made great entertainment. Someone rode the horse while the others took turns sitting in the hood for a spin around in the winter wonderland.”
Bennie Getz had similar memories. When winter snow blessed the valley, he didn’t waste any time climbing a hill on his grandfather’s property. Half the town arrived to sled. A few had sleds like Radio Flyers, but mostly they brought anything they could get their hands on. A grain shovel or car hood would work just fine.
Pat Turner Ritchie shared that around 1958-60, the river at Bennie’s beach was frozen over. My dad, Garnett Turner, took several of us to skate. He had ice skates and pulled us on our sled up and down the river. We children did not have skates, but our snow boots were fun to “skate” on the ice.
Glen Strawderman remembers when the river at Bennie’s Beach was frozen, and a crowd of about 80 showed up. At that time, they could skate all the way past Chimney Rock. The event was seared in his memory since he fell and bruised his tailbone and still recalls the pain he suffered.
Sam Showalter skated down the river from Bennie’s Beach. The ice was thick and clear, and he could out-skate the sluggish fish just beneath the surface. “We burned an old tire on the ice to warm our fingers. It also gave us an exciting object to jump over in our skates”
Dr. John Glick shared years ago that many women went into labor during a snowstorm. He believed that since the uterus is full of liquid, it acts as a barometer. When the barometric pressure lowers with a storm, the uterus sags, sometimes triggering labor. He remembered a severe ice storm while he was on hospital duty. Women started arriving in labor, but their doctors could not get there. He delivered six babies that night.
Eugene (Gene) Long was born on April 28, 1928. His mother, Mary (Hammett) Long, often reminded him that the “snow was as high as the fence post” that day. A friend who heard the story nicknamed him “Snow Baby.” I told Eugene that if his personality was a
reflection of that day, the sun must have been shining brightly on those drifts.
Let me share a couple of memories I recorded from my late father-in-law, Alfred T. Lilliendahl, who grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut. One frigid winter, he and his friend, Stanley Samuelson, skated across the frozen inlet near their homes. While on the other side, an ice breaker came through and cut an opening in the ice, leaving them stranded. It was so cold that the ice was frozen again in two hours, and they were able to skate back home.
One year, the snow was so deep that young Alfie, an adventuresome lad, jumped from his third-story apartment window. The thrill of the jump left, and panic set in when he realized he had sunk almost his full height into the snow. It was a challenge to dig himself out. As for me, I’m fortunate he survived. Otherwise, there would be a lot fewer Lilliendahls, and I would probably be married to a loser.