Remembering by Lorinda Henry

Remembering by Lorinda Henry

When I was a kid we were told that the windows were painted in winter by Jack Frost. You’d get up in the morning and marvel at the lace and forests that covered the windows before the house warmed up. On really cold days that could be all day, although there might be periods when the wood stove reached the far corners. At that point the frost could melt and run down the window to the bottom of the sash where it froze again into long spindles of ice. We’d carefully pry loose those shards and eat them, but try to keep Mom from seeing us do that. Knowing what I do now about the probable composition of the paint on the window sashes, we may have ingested enough lead to cause heebie jeebies in Mom, if not literal lead poisoning.

We could spend quite a long time at a frosty window, helping out Jack Frost by adding our own marks to his. Breathing on the glass melted the fragile designs and they refroze in other ways. If you wanted to see out, you had to concentrate blowing on one area and peek through that. Fingers were great for blotting little oblongs which you could arrange in designs as long as your fingers could bear the cold. Mostly we did this while waiting for Mom to finish breakfast because the frost usually disappeared by the time the stove had heated the rooms.

Gram said that when she was a child they all suffered from chilblains on their fingers and toes, and she was glad we didn’t have to deal with that. I thought that chilblains were only in Dickens or Gram’s memory, but a friend whose father took them all to live in Ireland for a while said she got them in the winters there because their housing was damp. Chilblains are not like frostbite, but occur in places cold and damp if your spend enough time there. I lay them up to the snarkier side of Jack Frost.

I am going out on a limb here and say Jack was also responsible for turning the laundry into stiff humanesque forms as soon as it was hung out. The funniest were the long underwear combinations called Union suits. Long arms, long legs, no heads, they were just strange. I don’t know why, but pictures usually show these as red as Christmas pajamas, but all I ever saw were natural wool color. In the best old button collections you can usually find several ivory looking buttons about ½ inch across. They are made of bone drilled with holes and are underwear buttons from back in the day. None of them are red! Dad went to separate tops and bottoms (long johns) in the 50s, and those looked even odder when frozen into form.

Central heating and electric dryers changed most of that, and at the same time increased our carbon footprints. I know friends who discount dryers and tout the line dry as the most fair way to go. They are not wrong. However there is a definite chill in the air when they bring this up to old timers. Summer, sure. Spring, fall breezes are wonderful for clothes. But when they start saying, “Winter, too, like our ancestors did!” I am assured that never once in their childhood did they have to help hang out clothes in January. Their starry eyed enthusiasm is not clouded by Jack Frost’s best efforts; they have never had chilblains.

It’s not that their solution is impossible, or that maybe it will become a “new” normal in the future. It’s just that, whereas you might teach an old dog new tricks, it is not at all reasonable to teach us old dogs old tricks. We’ve been there.

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