Winter would not have been winter without two-and-three-foot-high snow drifts piled up against sidewalks and on front and back lawns — for a good four or five months of the year. There were times we had so much snow blocking our front door the only way in or out of the house was via the garage.
But like I said, it was no biggie. We never even thought twice about it.
For one thing, it was a given. There was really no such thing as having a mild winter. By Halloween it was already getting very cold and you could smell winter in the air. And I remember still having snow on the ground in April, and sometimes even in early May.
For another we were tough, hale and hearty Canadians.
Which is why nobody seemed to care. We all had the proper clothing, we weren’t concerned so much with fashion, warmth was on our minds. So we bulked up and wore heavy sweaters, and big parkas with fur-trimmed hoods, wool toques that left very little skin exposed, extra long scarves we wound round and round our necks and, depending on how frigid the temperatures were, even covered our noses and mouths. I remember wearing two pairs of mittens — and socks — at a time, long underwear was a must and we’d tuck our pants into high, fleece-lined boots with great traction on the soles.
Every home had an assortment of different shovels lined up in the garage, ready for action and it was a common sight to see cars completely buried. And if it wasn’t for their antennas poking up through all the snow you’d never have even known they were there.
A fall ritual was changing the tires on the car to snow tires in preparation for what lay ahead and when I was really young, everyone put chains on their tires as well. They really worked well, you could drive through just about anything. And it was a rare occasion when schools and offices had to be closed.
You’d see people snowshoeing and cross country skiing to work and even to visit friends or to go to restaurants and movies. Nothing seemed to stop us from going about our business.
In fact in all the years I lived in Montreal I can only remember one time when I couldn’t get home from work and ended up staying in a hotel. To be honest I’m sure I could have gotten home, we didn’t live that far away, but I think I just wanted to stay downtown and party. I do remember some school closings, but not that many considering the winters we had, and I have very fond memories of those times.
My father would usually insist on going to the office, much as my mother and I tried to talk him out of it. In the end it would take him three hours to make what was usually a 20-minute trip, he’d get there to find that none of his employees had come in and he’d have to turn around and come back home. He’d always stop off and pick up goodies for us to eat — not that we ever needed it, there was never room for as much as a toothpick in our fridge and my mother routinely cooked enough food for at least six people — but he’d do it anyway.
And then we’d all hunker down at home. My mother would cook up big pots of soup and bolognese sauce and stews and all kinds of stick-to-your ribs comfort food. We’d stay in our jammies and read and picnic in front of the TV and play records and listen to the radio and play cards and board games and do crossword puzzles and eat ourselves into a stupor and take naps and wake up and start the routine all over again.
We lived across the street from a school; and behind the school there were several blocks of undeveloped land (like you’d ever see that anywhere anymore). That’s one of the spots the trucks would dump all the snow that’d be cleared off the streets. Those piles would be so high we’d be able to toboggan and sometimes even ski down them.
Speaking of snow clearing, it was instantaneous in those days. Highways, main streets, even side streets and sidewalks were cleaned immediately and cleaned again and again and again as more snow continued to fall. And of course the streets were heavily salted so it would all melt.
That was then, though, and this is now. And the idea of rushing out to make snow angels isn’t nearly as appealing as it was when I was a kid. So if mother nature is reading this post, fugget about it!