The last produce from the garden had been harvested and either eaten or preserved for the long winter season. Summer had been spent weeding the garden, playing baseball, exploring Sneak-a-Leak Creek, or shopping for clothes. Sadness reigned because the long days of freedom would now be replaced with School. At the end of summer the house smelled of vinegar and pickling spices. Steam rose from the kettles of tomatoes being boiled which would soon be turned into tomato juice, diced tomatoes, and oh God, Moms’ great chili sauce. Veggies were cut, dried and canned along with a variety of fruit for jams, jellies and deserts. There were countless other smells from peanut butter, molasses and anise and the smells wafting from cookies, coffee cakes and other pastries. Many of these items were made by Mom to be used as gifts or for the packages that were delivered for the poor that lived in our neighborhood. The sights and smells tempted all of us whether we were adults or children. In our house of ten it was essential that every item needed for survival was preserved, used or passed down. Clothes were mended, and if possible, passed to the next brother or sister. Winter, especially to a one-income family, was a hardship. Carrots, potatoes and onions were piled under dirt in the root cellar to be used for those special “Sunday dinners.” In those days these dinners were a once-a-week special occasion. The first of the many hard freezes and snows transformed the Sneak-a-Leak Creek area into fields of glistening snow and ice. Looking back, it seems like it snowed more often and the drifts were deeper in those days. Snow piled over broken corn stalks provided a haven for pheasants and other wild animals. Cows huddled near barns and would not venture out into the pastures until the green of spring. Soon after that first snow the sleds appeared and those that had been especially good brought out their new toboggans. There were many hills in the area for all kinds of sledding. Skis were very rare around Sneak-a-Leak Creek. Skates would glide over the snow crusted ice and the occasional frozen stump served as seats on our “ice rinks.” There were places along the creek where you could see rushing water beneath the clear ice and we all wondered “Where’d the fish go?” Traps were set along the banks of Sneak-a-Leak” and we dreamed of selling hides for a few dollars. Mom would point out footprints in the snow outside our windows. Legend had it that Tom-Tom, a special elf of Santa Claus, watched us through the windows and reported on our behavior. Oh God, our greatest fear that Santa would leave us coal in our stockings. Speaking of coal, the coal man would come every couple of weeks. With blackened face and clothes, driving a huge coal truck, he would back his truck up to the window to the “coal bin” in the basement. A ton of coal would “thunder” out of the truck into the basement shaking the house. Then every so often someone would go down in the basement, shake the ashes through the grate, and shovel fresh coal into the furnace. If the fire went out during the night you would wake up to a very cold morning. One of our winter chores was to load the ashes into buckets and take them out and spread some on the driveway and empty the rest into the garden. As Christmas drew near our thoughts turned to Santa and out came everyone’s “dream books.” The Sears, Spiegel and Montgomery Ward catalogs, along with their “toy supplements” were used to create our “wish lists.” The girls dreamed of receiving dolls, baking ovens and sewing cards, while the boys focused on guns and holsters, bicycles and slinkies. Also on the “wish lists” were board games like Clue, Monopoly, and Sorry. I wonder now if Santa ever read our “wish lists.” Around Sneak-a-Leak Creek Santa was assisted in providing gifts by “The Old Newsboys” through Uncle George Ridenour. Gifts of meat, bread, toys and clothes helped add joy to our Christmas season and into the New Year. We thought we were blessed by both Santa and Jesus (…and we were!). One of the things we did was lay face up under the fresh cut Christmas tree which was full of colored lights, old bulbs and streams of icicles. A sky of colored lights, shimmering silver reflections and the smell of pine needles overwhelmed our senses. All too soon it was over. The tree stayed for awhile but everything else was put away. On free days out favorite thing to do was “go outside” to play. Most of the time this meant picking sides for the snowball fights. I often ended up getting my face washed with snow by my brother. Snow forts, snow angels, sliding, skating and sometimes just walking the dog in the knee deep snow occupied our time. I remember delivering the Ypsilanti Press in the snow. This meant walking about one and a half miles along the route and then returning home on the dark and lonely roads. Sometimes there was sleet or just the raw, cold wind burning your cheeks. But more often than not, there was the glory and satisfaction of walking along the darkened road as the moon rose, revealing quiet fields now filled with millions of shining diamonds. There was the crunch, crunch, crunch of the cold snow under your feet, the buffs of white breath from your mouth, and the anticipation of getting home and warm again. Back then, family and home were important, School was a necessary part of learning and growing up, and church and God were a natural part of life. Kids for the most part respected one another and spent a great deal of time playing together. Television was new and computers and cell phones had not been thought of yet. We read newspapers and magazines like Life, Look, and the Saturday Evening Post that we actually held in our hands and would often listen to the radio as a family. There was an innocence in those days on the banks of Sneak-a-Leak Creek and the wonderful memories of those times will be with me for all the days of my life. (George Ridenour is a volunteer in the YHS Archives and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.) Photo Captions: Photo 1: George and his sister resting after sledding on Sneak-a-Leak Creek.
Photo 2: George in a snowsuit that was passed down from an older sister.