I’m going out on that “proverbial limb” and say that for those of us who grew up where winter was a welcome season; those rollicking, frolicking times were priceless. Now, as a member of the “old school” generation, the memories of sledding down a hill, snowball fights, building snowmen, and just over-the-top happiness of romping around out “in it!” – hopefully rolls around in your heart and mind as it does mine: like hot chocolate and your mom’s deep warm hugs. I think this is especially true if you lived in a small town, or in a place where there were parks nearby or other spaces where enough openness would let a kid enjoy getting lost in the sheer beauty of being a child in the wintertime. At times, I am overcome by the feelings of joy reliving and relishing the pleasures of my “winters of innocence” given to me by the happenstance of where I lived as a child; where wintertime was wonderful and deliciously magical.
In my teenage years, though, living in the “big” city and big life changes forced me to share my idyllic memories of winter with darker ones; along with a great many other childish outlooks. I was lucky because the major city that played an oversize role in my early adulthood offered up some beautiful winter scenes. Make no mistake, though, wintertime in that overcrowded, noisy, rough and tumble place was harsh, unforgiving and damned cruel in many respects. In fact, during a particular bad year, the cold, snow, and ice literally drove me to proclaim to my family one January night (during a period when the temperature hadn’t risen about -30 degrees – factoring in the wind chill for 32 days), that I was not going to spend another winter in that (expletive) town! I was leaving before the next winter came – with or without them. You can imagine how they reacted to my threat: they completely ignored me. Can’t say I blamed them; I was cold, tired, and irritable. Years later, I would learn that I was suffering from some syndrome (which I can’t name) that scientist say affects some folk living in places where there is lack of sunshine during the winter. Lucky me. Ironically, as life will assuredly do, a few years later in the early spring, it tossed my family a curve ball, then a slider, and finally a fastball high and inside that left us taking a called third strike (we are “major” league baseball fans): we had to find another place to live before the coming winter or a family member would never see another spring.
It has been said that one should be careful what you wish for; or proclaim what you will or will not ever do. Life taught me that harsh lesson during that fateful Spring and Summer of agonizing and frenzied road trips trying to find a suitable “home” that would assure my family’s long term survival. Eventually, we ended up in a place of unimaginable beauty and warmth; with any resemblance of winter miles and miles away, and thousands of feet in the air in the form of snowcapped mountains. We are surrounded by them and they are breathtaking.
Unfortunately, I brought with me to our tranquil paradise one winter’s memory borne of deceit, hatred and murderous intent. It was inflicted upon me by a relative because I knew of his low-down dirty secret that happened many years ago from that small town where winter for me was a childhood rainbow. It was a scandalous act of betrayal between brothers and sisters. As a child, I did not understand why it was happening, but I knew it was wrong. Years later, I realized that weakness, booze, jealousy – perhaps even a bit of “forbidden fruit” may have played a role in this sordid tale for the offending sister. As for the brother in this mess, he was just an evil dog out to conquer every woman walking; who got hurt was of no concern to him. His pleasure, needs, his “notches” on a bedpost signified his self-worth. He lived his life that way until the day he died; leaving a path of hell and hurt in his wake. He was rotten to his core. As an adult, a gut feeling made me conclude that deep-down his younger brother perhaps suspected the illicit affair; but was too weak and therefore powerless to respond. He also truly loved my aunt. This for me made the treachery even more profound.
Sad to say, in my teen years during another terrible winter, I was forced to live under that Judas’ roof. My “other” aunt gave him no choice ( I was alone in that big city). But the apparent compromise left me sleeping in an unheated, uninsulated basement next to a badly broken window where the snow and ice seeped in around the rags I stuffed in it, and the bitter Artic wind whipped my mind and body quite literally nearly to death. No matter how many coats, rugs, curtains – whatever else I could bind to use as blankets to try and stay warm – it was never enough. That SOB threatened to throw me out in the street if I moved anything – anything – in that basement; particularly that bed nestled next to that busted window. As you might have imagined, I became ill – coming down with a severe case of pneumonia. I am here to tell you that my spirit was not broken, and the hatred between us grew even deeper and more pronounced.
I never spoke a word to anyone about the sinful behavior of that aunt and uncle that summer of long ago in my small town. The brother and sister who were the victims died not knowing of the betrayal that was inflicted upon them by their siblings. These despicable excuses for a brother and sister have also gone to meet their maker. I have heard the statement, “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord” many times in my life; so I truly hope those two snakes-in-the-grass alley cats are feeling the heat of hell.
Winter in Chicago was always difficult for me. But there were some truly awesome times to enjoy the season. It was beautiful and breathless to see our neighborhood blanketed in the first snowfall of winter unmarked by footprints on the sidewalks or car tracks in the street. Front lawn lanterns in every yard that lighted walkways added a shimmering glow to the beauty of it all. While inside our home, the warmth and love of my wife and children filled my heart and our hearth with the heat of the blazing summer sun.
In that long ago time, winter was not complete if you did not stroll through Grant Park along the lakefront near Buckingham Fountain. Or take drives on north Lake Shore Drive and South Shore Drive to marvel at Lake Michigan’s waves caught in midair; splashes frozen in time. If you were lucky enough to experience walking the Magnificent Mile – north Michigan Avenue (the Madison Avenue of Chicago), you were treated to a display of tiny clear lights that twinkled like a billion stars of Bethlehem. Your eyes were overwhelmed with the beauty of it all. Visiting State Street (called that “Great Street,” and no, I don’t know why) during the Christmas and New Year holidays was a “rite of passage” with your children. The street and the department store displays and decorations were truly magical – some celebrated nationally like the Marshall Field’s where the crowds were 6, 8, as much as ten feet thick. Everyone trying to get a peek at these awesome fantasy displays.
Those sights and sounds always brought back memories of my small town upbringing and its wintertime treats of a joyous time being had by all the kids in the neighborhood. I must admit, years later – every now and then – that awful, dreadful winter spent huddled in that bed beneath that broken window creeps into my mind. It’s a cold, cruel memory -a winter’s tale fueled by treachery that has lasted far too long into the last seasons of my life.
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