MY POINT IS: Let it snow, but forget the ice

Nita Johnson, The Sentinel Echo, London, Ky.
·5 min read

Feb. 19—Playing in the snow was as much anticipated as Christmas in my childhood days — perhaps even moreso, since Christmas was a one-day event. But the deep snows of southeastern Kentucky winters — ah, that was sometimes a week-long break that inspired sledding, snowball fights and, of course — the traditional snowmen adorning yards throughout the region. Frequent winter snows were common and most people my age can remember spending hours upon hours outside in frigid temperatures, stomping across yards and fields to find that 'perfect' hillside for sledding.

The temperatures didn't seem quite so cold in my younger days as my cousins, Mark and Kim, and I bundled up to make a new adventure in every snow that fell. Those were the days before paved roads extended beyond major highways, when potholes in the side roads were nearly deep enough to qualify as a burial site, and, despite the lack of modern day comforts that are considered luxuries in my youth, life was simpler and happier.

It was under the watchful eyes of Mom, Bill and Dessie that we headed out with our sledding gear — whether it be an actual sled, an old rubber inner tube from a defective tire, a piece of tin roofing or just a big piece of plastic — with a double layer of clothes, bundled under our coats, hats and gloves. When there were no gloves available or accessible, we used socks to protect our hands from the cold temperatures and buried our cold faces into scarves wrapped around the conglomeration of clothing.

There were many places on Bill's farm that provided the outlet for our winter celebrations. We'd start out on one hill and when the tracks of our makeshift sleds wore to the wet ground, we'd move to another spot. Sometimes we even ventured further — crossing the creek and seeking adventure in neighboring property. There we found sledding paradise — rolling hills that offered an exciting slide down one large slope before having enough speed to cross over another small rise.

One year we had friends over so we chose to walk down Powder Mill hill to its junction with Pine Top Road. There we found another friend outside playing in the snow and we put our heads together on finding a closer sledding spot. The friend had just the solution — behind her home was a steep hill just crying out for our company. We seized that unforeseen opportunity, warming up a few minutes before tackling our newest obstacle — making the fast trek down the hill but taking somewhat longer to climb back up the slope to the starting point. Eventually we made a ice pack of the snow and extended our route to the frozen pond just yards away. One of us tested the deeply frozen ice to ensure we were safe in routing the next few slides onto the middle of the pond, which we did several times before heading back to the warmth of home.

Living in Chattanooga when my children were pre-teens deprived them of the winter snows that I had experienced during my youth. But the blizzard of 1993 dumped 21 inches across the area, and after we dug our way outside, the snow fun began — just in a more intense manner. The depth of the snow became the motive two days later for some men in the neighborhood to roll snowballs off the driveways and hill in order to clear a path to the main road. Unlike many in the area, we were fortunate to only lose electrical power for 45 minutes over the four-day period, while others survived over a week before power was restored.

The move to Kentucky provided some revisits to the snows of my childhood and there were some sledding activities for my children in their 'tweens and teens, although it was more my efforts to construct the snowmen donned with UK and North Laurel hats, shirts and flags than the five kids who began the process with me. Another snowfall sent us to another area across the road where we found an unbeknownst sledding paradise — a sloping hill with a couple of small rises that made for an extra bump or so along the way.

I must add, however, that their first introduction to Kentucky winters came with the ice storm of 1994 that downed trees and electric lines that toppled the transformer pole onto the ground and left my mother and children without power for two weeks. But they learned about fixing soup and beans in a pot on a kerosene heater — a new and exciting venture for them.

The grandkids have even gotten in on some snow activities over the years. I still have a video where Hannah and a friend attempted carrying a plastic sled full of snow through the yard before Hannah fell, dumping the entire load onto her bundled up body. The construction of an igloo that same year, however, eventually resulted in me threatening any child from caving in the masterpiece I had constructed with such care and effort — and a safe hiding place for my dog.

Climate change over those 10 years of granddaughters resulted in the youngest, Autumn, not seeing a decent snow until she was 4, but we made an attempt at reviving Nana's youth by desperately trying to get the dry grainy snow to form snowball condition — primarily unsuccessfully but still enough to have at least have a snowball fight.

The days and snows of my youth and young adulthood have passed and now we deal with the gloss of ice and danger that defines our winter weather. But it would be great, if for one last time, we could relive the glory of those memory making days and share the wonder of winter snows to the upcoming generations.

Nita Johnson is a staff writer at the Sentinel-Echo and can be reached at njohnson@sentinel-echo.com.