Mackie: When Winter Was Tough, And So Were We

It’s come to my attention that people who’ve recently settled in the Upper Valley may not have an appreciation for what used to be called “a good old-fashioned winter.”

Last winter, which more closely resembled a “good old-fashioned spring,” may have lulled them into a false sense of security, much like those cheap coats that are regularly marked down from $700 to $40 thanks to the miracle of compounding store coupons. My wife uses them so skillfully that I don’t think we spend any actual money anymore, or if we do lay down a 10-spot, we save $200 and I feel as rich as a drunk at a casino, if you know what I mean.

Some blame climate change for the mild winters, but I suspect that Earth is inching closer to the sun, and the liberal media is covering this up for nefarious reasons, none of which are clear to me just yet, but will eventually be revealed by a Tea Party blogger in a Tennessee trailer.

Be that as it may, the milquetoast winter of 2011-2012 may not be predictive of the future, since these things have a way of evening out. Last year I put winter tires on my car, when I could have just as well used flip-flops, or the spherical equivalent. I will put winter tires on again, since personal history has taught me that preparation is sometimes wasted but cavalier inaction is almost always punished. It’s not that the universe is out to get me, but it’s not going to let me get away with much.

And who knows, we may yet again have a “good old-fashioned winter.” My memories of them go a little like this:

In the winters of bygone days, we were made of strong stuff. No panic over 6-inch snowstorms, which we brushed aside like a little dust on our shoes. Storms came as regularly as classes on a college schedule — blizzards on Monday, Wednesday and Friday one week, and and nor’easters on Tuesday, Thursday the next.

When I was a kid, we walked five miles to school in the snow carrying shovels, so we could clean sidewalks on the way home to make pocket money. (No allowances in those days, when kids didn’t have smart phones to play with, just icicles.) Of course, school buses were needed for

longer trips, and when they got stuck in the drifts we’d happily pile out and attach ropes to ourselves to pull them out. It was amazing what 40 school kids with ropes and chains could do. We sometimes even volunteered to hitch up and help the city plow trucks.

It was colder then, and animal life was affected. Nowadays people get excited when a few black bears rip up bird feeders or sun themselves on a deck. When the Upper Valley had old-fashioned winters, polar bears marauded down Main Street most Februarys, and mid-way into March. The sight of a big white bear sure made getting safely into Town Meeting exciting!

Our cars didn’t have good heaters like they do now, so many of us used to build small campfires in the front passenger seat, generally only when we didn’t have a front passenger. This is why older cars didn’t have as much resale value.

Our homes were pretty cold, too. Fireplaces and woodstoves didn’t heat the nether regions, and many a person found himself or herself frozen onto the commode. It was a long wait until spring, I’ll tell you. Comfortable sleep was possible only through the use of multiple layers of blankets, piled so high you often lost little brothers and sisters for days. That sorted itself out, since younger siblings tend to be good at making noise.

Winters were very long, and people spent many hours inside without the Internet or 200 cable channels. By March, homebound couples stared at each other with sort of a zombified look, which was almost as creepy as climate change.

But maybe those days are long over. These so-called winters could be the new “normal,’’ and we’ll have to hitch up our Bermuda shorts and do the best we can.

The writer can be reached at