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Columns

Pat Wallis: Winters are still cold, but so much has changed

Pat Wallis
Pat Wallis

Lots of things were different during the winter when my generation was growing up.

The city might have plowed the streets, but they didn’t use salt to melt ice or snow. They scattered cinders at intersections so cars wouldn’t skid and spin when drivers tried to stop. The cinders were probably left from coal furnaces and stoves used to heat the city buildings. Natural gas hadn’t come through Sandwich when we were youngsters.

In those days, girls didn’t wear jeans or slacks, but some were lucky enough to have wool snow pants so their legs didn’t get cold when they tried to slide on icy sidewalks. We’d stand on registers to warm up, if there was a whole-house furnace.

Other households spent a lot of time around a pot-belly stove in their living rooms, or gathered in their kitchens, the warmest spot in the house. Many who slept on the second floor wore flannel pajamas and woolen socks when going to bed, and they took flat rubber flasks filled with hot water (hot water bottles) with them to warm up their beds since it was frigid with no heat upstairs. 

There was a really good hill for sledding and tobogganing at the forest preserve between Sandwich and Somonauk. If we were going fast enough when we hit the long bump along the bottom of the hill, we’d fly over the drive that circled the property.

Our folks would often drive a bunch of us out to the forest preserve with sleds and our toboggan. We’d usually have a campfire at the top of the hill or mom would build a fire in the cookstove inside the building so we could have mugs of chili or hot chocolate. It was great having a place to warm up while we dried our mittens and gloves on the stove’s handles. This was long before insulated clothing, so we were often chilled to the bone.

One year, when we were in high school, my dad built up the sides of our east lot, and flooded it for ice skating. With streetlights along the highway and our personal floodlight in the alley, kids would ice skate and the guys would play hockey, even after dark. 

Another wintertime thrill was soon introduced to our group of friends: a bobsled. This was a long wooden sled for maybe six passengers seated above metal runners. I think there was even a steering wheel.

The guys would fasten it with a rope, or something, to the back of a car. The driver of the car would tow us around the south side of town, speeding up on corners so the bobsled and its passengers would whip around behind the car.

I can’t remember doing that more than a few times. It was scary and we got a few bruises.

Then it was the next generation, the winter of 1967, when we had a heavy snow that kept our family busy for a while. I think all four of our sons had newspaper routes to deliver that year. My grandfather, Louie Klotz, had given me his 1948 four-door Chevy after he’d put a dent in the fender while putting it in his garage. He’d turned 90 that year and thought it was best.

We put chains on the ’48 Chevy and delivered every newspaper that winter, never missing one. That little jewel had a three-speed shift on the steering wheel and always ran, if I used the choke just a little when I started it. 

The city still wasn’t using salt to melt ice or snow on the streets. So, the road in front of our house was a sheet of thick ice, just perfect for youngsters in the neighborhood to put on their skates to play hockey. There were many bruises and twisted ankles, accompanied by laughter, hollering and moaning, that winter, and the neighborhood made plenty of snowmen, snow angels and snowballs, too. And I’m sure there are a wealth of memories!

Things have really changed for those of us who remember wearing wool in the winter to stay warm outdoors, or putting coal in the furnace to heat up the house; I even recall having the movie theater the ONLY place in town that was cool in the summer because it was the only building in Sandwich with air-conditioning!

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