It’s the heart of winter, if winter has a heart.
Back when Grandpa Oz was a child, in the Paleozoic era, snow had to be up to the ear holes to close schools. With my dad, the nicest, kindest drill sergeant ever, the measurement was love handles. With me it was knee high.
No parents, back then, drove their children to school or warned them to be cautious in drop-off zones.
I’d walk two miles, uphill both ways, to Elmer Fudd Grade School.
Times were tough. My classmates and I wore hand-me-down clothes that were either too big or too small. The big kids invariably wore too-small, skin-tight clothes. The tiny kids’ clothes dragged behind them like a queen’s wedding dress.
We were poor back then. In fact, most of us couldn’t afford legs. We’d have to drag ourselves to school, and the uphill was even steeper on the way home.
In blizzards, which were daily occurrences, back then, we wore pajamas under our hand-me-down clothes.
Cold, brutal, gale force winds blew in our faces. That made us look a lot like meteorologist Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel doing a live shot, even though back then we had 10-inch black-and-white TV with only three channels, all of which spent most of their time carrying presidential addresses to a beleaguered nation.
Our backpacks, then, weighed 50 pounds. They were not filled with books, mind you, but survival gear — tiny spears, slingshots and the like — and we wore paper bags on our feet for shoes.
When plastic bags came into fashion, later, they worked much better during blizzards.
We always had to share our boots and socks with siblings, and most families had at least 10 children, some families even more.
Invariably, though, most families would own only one mitten, which was passed back and forth and highly prized.
Somehow, we survived.
Of course, the route to school back then passed through The Forest, which was populated by cougars, bears and wolves on the prowl, as well as an occasional wolverine, badger and rattlesnake, to make life interesting.
We couldn’t afford boots then. That’s where growing up on a ranch came in handy. We’d wrap barbed wire around our feet for traction.
While we had hand-me-down clothes, either too small or too big, we owned a surplus of wool scarves. The surplus was forever a mystery. Our moms would wrap one scarf over our forehead and one over our mouth, for some reason.
The wet, stinky wool made us smell like a herd of sheep throughout the school day, which may explain why it was difficult to get a date for the senior prom.
The first half of the school day was spent undressing, the second half getting dressed to face the elements for the uphill trip home.
All this built character, resilience, strength and grit. We had enough grit to gravel a road from Walla Walla to the coast. We embraced winter, back then. Boys were manly. Sheep were embarrassed, sheared close to the skin so we children could have scarves.
However, on our uphill treks home from school, against the wind, battling the blizzard, dodging near-naked sheep, no matter how hard we looked we never found winter’s heart.