Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Farewell to a Winter of Discontent


As the long winter of our discontent comes to a close we can thank Divine Providence that we made it I suppose because all in all it was a pretty horrific experience.  Not that sub-zero temperatures and balmy tropical days changing places every week was all that bad if you were a kid who dug snow days.

I remember back when I was a kid, well at least I think what I remember happened to me when I was a kid, and of course the weather was far more treacherous, the snow deeper, the temperature colder and there were never snow days.  We had no buses, no hot lunches, boots that leaked and coats with broken zippers and still we never seemed to notice the cold.
But that all changed one dark and dreary winter day just before Christmas when I was playing Sherlock Holmes and stumbled upon Santa's secret stash of presents due to come down the chimney when Christmas Eve arrived the next week.  I didn't really bother to wonder why the presents were hidden in the basement of my house in Iowa and not in Santa's sled at the North Pole.
As long as I got my Spike Jones Drum set, which miraculously was packed in a large box though every Christmas it magically appeared in our front room beside the tree set up and ready to play, I could believe anything necessary to get those drums.  This particular year I was bound and determined to not destroy the drum set before Easter as was the case the past two years.  But it wasn't the Spike Jones drums that caught my attention.
As I mentioned, the weather was the worst that existed since my Irish Grand Dad told me about the winter back in Ireland when you left the house through the second floor window and were tied to a rope so as not to lose your way in the blizzard and white out.  Said he walked through that desolate landscape and Hellish storm over two miles to school.  Always seemed to me like a lot of rope to be pulling through all that snow.
This Saturday morning my brothers, I was sandwiched between Mickey and Bosco, and I were left at home alone when my parents needed to pick up some final gifts before Christmas.  While the three of us were each a year apart we also had a little brother 8 years younger than me so we were supposed to baby sit.
What caught my attention while prowling through the basement were the winter parkas, just like the Army wore.  Back in the 1950's there was nothing cooler than having genuine army gear.  So I grabbed Bosco, my kid brother, and suggested we take them out for a test ride in the intensifying storm outside.
There was no chance Mickey, the oldest and our designated Archangel could join us in such a despicable caper as he violated no rules while Bosco and I lived to violate all rules.  Thus we decided to sneak out the back door while he was entertaining little Willy, our baby brother.
It really never occurred to us to take any supplies more than winter boots, gloves and hats with us since the Army parkas would take care of the rest.  Quietly we snuck out the back door and raced across the yard to the alley then darted around the next turn and hid behind a garage door.  The bitter cold was no match for the Army.
However, when Bosco said, "now what" I realized we lacked a plan of action.  "Let's go to the frozen lake in Memorial Park and chase the girls," I said and  Bosco could care less as long as we were free, so off we headed to the lake.
Now the below zero cold and blowing snow were not a problem, but the only way to the lake was through over 3 blocks of the dense and Forbidden Forest where the deranged serial murdered lived in a giant sewer pipe.
We had slipped past him on previous excursions but never in two feet of fresh snow, still we were always up for a new adventure and maybe the green Army coats would hide us in the trees.  Onward we journeyed for what seemed like hours up and down the mountains, along cliffs and wary of the bears or leprechauns lurking in the shadows.
At last we broke out of the forest and could hear the kids yelling over the hill and down at the lake and away we raced in our spanking new Army coats sliding more than walking down the snow and ice covered hill.
Upon reaching our destination we stopped to reconnoiter the surroundings, then realized we were the only ones without skates, a decided disadvantage on ice.  If we had no chance of keeping up with the skaters, we decided to do the next best thing and go racing out of control across the ice in our boots until we crashed into some likely suspect, like a cute girl.
For the next 30 minutes we were terrors on ice like bumper cars on rails as we were able to introduce ourselves up close and personal to anyone we wanted.  However, the constant falls on the ice were taking their toll and my knees were hurting.
So off I went seeking temporary solitude by sliding under the walking bridge crossing the lake and meandering toward the end of the lake.  I turned when I heard Bosco yelling at me and he was frantically pointing at something across the ice.  I looked, and then saw the strangest crack in the ice come racing toward me in a jagged pattern and I was clearly the bulls eye.
Before I could even scream the ice underfoot simply shattered and down I dropped into the freezing water in my Christmas present Santa was yet to deliver.  Fortunately the coat caught on the ice as I sank and I didn't drop all the way through the ice.  But by the time I reached solid ice I was soaked to my shoulders.
Suddenly the enormity of our situation hit me and it wasn't the fact I just narrowly escaped death, nor the prospect that I still might freeze to death before we could get back through the woods and get home.  No, it was the fear of the consequences of my parents discovering I found Santa's present and then ruined it a week before Christmas.
Soaking wet in below zero weather Bosco and I set off into the Forbidden Forest in a mad dash to get to the house before I froze to death.  After 30 minutes of plunging through the snow drifts and up and down creek beds it became ominously clear as the wet clothes were freezing solid that I was a goner.
Once again my resourceful brother had an idea, we would build a fire, strip off my wet coat and pants and dry them.  He said I was starting to turn blue.  Of course, my kid brother was genetically born an arsonist and was nicknamed "pyro" because of his magical ability to set anything and everything on fire.
While I stood frozen in place he piled branches and whatever else he could find next to me and in minutes a fire roared through the forest.  Soon my coat melted enough to get it off and then came the pants and I can tell you in spite of standing near naked in below zero snow it was heaven sent.  I rotated to thaw out while he held the coat next to the flames.
The pants dried quickly but a down filled coat was another matter.  Soon it was obvious we would never get it dry and back into the package in the closet, still about 30 minutes away, before the parents got home.  Again the pyro had an idea, let the fire burn down and we would throw it on the hot coals to speed dry.
Something told me it was not a good idea but desperation was setting in so onto the coals Bosco tossed the coat, the inside of the coat facing down in case there was a problem.  About two minutes later smoke seeped out around the edges of the parka.  Another couple of minutes and a lot of smoke seeped out.
I grabbed the coat and threw it over my shoulders and it felt damp but warm so off we headed to beat my parents home.  We made it with time to spare, but not nearly enough time.  When we crashed through the back door there was Mickey and the first thing he yelled was where did we get the new coats?  The second was what is that awful smell of smoke?
When I pulled off the parka things were even worse than the smell.  The inside of the coat was covered with black soot from the fire.  There was no way to explain a coat from Santa covered with black soot.
Now fast action was required.  Right beside the back door in the kitchen was the washer and dryer.  My only hope for getting out of a terrible mess was to wash the coat and get it back to the basement.
Bosco and I fumbled around to get the front door of the washer open and tossed in the coat.  I pulled over a chair and climbed up on the machine to try and figure out what all the buttons did while Bosco went for the detergent.  Mickey was simply hysterical.
Unbeknownst to me, Bosco was as clueless about the soap as I was about the controls and by the time I hit the right button to bring it to life he had dumped an entire box of detergent into the little chute on the front door.
As the machine filled with water and started to rotate the parka we left the room to clean up then raced back to check the progress.  Rounding the corner to the kitchen something dreadful was going on.  Soap suds were pouring out the spout on the front door.  A huge mountain of suds nearly three feet tall were moving across the kitchen floor as suds continued to cascade out the spout.
"Holy shit!" was the only thing I could hear as Mickey stood in the doorway paralyzed while Bosco and I set off sliding through the mountain of suds toward the washer.  As I fumbled with the controls there was no way I was going to get it shut off so Bosco did the only thing left, he jerked open the front door to stop the washer.
The waterfall of suds became an avalanche as the bubbling contents in the machine dumped out flooding the entire kitchen.  Bosco and I could be heard laughing from somewhere under the mountain of suds as we realized defeat and figured we should enjoy the last few moments before the parents got home and sent us to reform school.
In the midst of our capitulation the back door opened, there was a shriek from our mother, and the rest of the afternoon became a blur as we cleaned every last sub from that house.  Our punishment was I was stuck with a new parka with burn marks all over the inside for the rest of the winter.

That was my last winter of discontent before this year.

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