When I was a kid, winter was a cold white dragon, sleeping on the earth. We could feel his sharp breath in our noses when we walked, bundled like Shackletons, down the long blocks to Mayfair School. In the afternoon, we would hurry home in the settling darkness, crunch step quiet, in case we woke him and he caught us far from our fires. We knew he was there: slumber frozen, waiting to rise and fly at us, howling at our windows, scratching to get in. No Jack Frost blithe spirit lived in our town; only the dragon, cunning and cold. We could feel his sleet-sharp talons and had seen his icicle teeth.
But we were children, and children play, like laughter in the sunshine. Too cold for snowmen, we made soaring angels, etched into the ground, and threw snowballs. We walked tractor tracks on the lawn (to fool our neighbours) and hand shovelled frontier fortresses that never got done. We had one long toboggan for sliding. Old roped and plank heavy, it needed two sturdy sisters to pull us. And The Flying Saucer, a scoop of shiny round kick-dented metal that twirled and hurled us down the low prairie hills as fast as a scream. We skated at school in the evenings and played four-boy hockey under the silvery lights of our night-barren streets.
And winter was books. Library heavy, we trudged them home on Saturday morning, like eager travellers, our documents stamped by sensible women in thick-soled shoes, who handed them back with earnest accord. They were precious passports to foreign lands where children were clever and had gardens and mysteries. With them the windblown dark was held back and at bay by oceans of pirates, Tarzan and colourful birds. Then after every after-dinner-dry-the-dishes we’d build castles from black coral sand and Sherlock Holmes, or Little Women, read aloud by an available sister. One year, the snow and cold were so deep we couldn’t go to school, and for a whole magic free day, we had My Friend Flicka, that lasted sleepy into the night.
And winter was thick knit socks and tasty mittens, that we called mitts, not meant for chewing. They hung on strings to keep them safe. There were big coats that zipped up tight and hats with flaps; pull-down toques and wrap heavy scarves: boots, never tall enough for the snow, which always crept in the top like icy melting fingers searching for your toes. They lived on the newspapers spread by the stove, half balanced on their necks and warm in the morning. And winter was flannel: bright plaid shirts and pajamas and blue striped sheets with heavy blankets that came to your chin.
And winter was every-morning porridge, bubbling like a stomach ache. We covered it with brown sugar or thick Rogers’ syrup that came in a can. And there was soup that steamed so hot it would fog your glasses and burn your tongue. It was made of big chunks of everything we’d eaten before and pennies of carrots and cut winter beans. But mostly winter was sugar, boiled pot-brown with cinnamon and chocolate. It flowed into cookies, hand-rounded and squashed with a fork, or low, one-pan cakes with oatmeal and dates. And there were butter tarts with raisins, shortbread, hard as coal and dungballs that cooled on the sewing machine table. But none of that was for eating. It was for Christmas and when I was a kid winter was Christmas.
Wednesday: A Child’s Christmas is Saskatchewan