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Whittling Away: Trying to escape winter

January 18, 2019 10:08 am Updated: January 18, 2019 10:15 am


I’m starting to remember why I left my beloved North Country and headed south. I was trying to escape winter. It seems to have found me again after all these years. Not that I’m that hard to find, a broken left leg and a ripped up left knee that will be replaced in a week or so has occupied most of my time since November.

The news is all about the big snow storm expected this weekend and it got me thinking about the snow storms when I was a child growing up in the Northern wilds of New York State, to the best of my memory we never had a snow day. I can remember walking up to the big maple tree where we met the school bus, the buckles on our snow boots jangling away. We never buckled them that just wasn’t cool. At the bus stop, we pulled them off and hid them behind a snow pile, we’d pull them back on the return trip home. On days when it was 20 or 30 below we’d amuse ourselves by spitting as high into the frosty air as we could and listening for the tiny little snap the spit made as it froze before it hit the ground. When the little bus arrived, we climbed aboard as fast as our multiple layers of clothing would allow and stuffed ourselves into our seat. The windows were covered with a thick layer of frost which we could doodle in with our fingernail. We resisted the temptation to lick it though, remembering how Wild Bill had pulled off most of his taste buds after he tried the lick thing and found himself frozen to the window. Perk O’Hara was the bus driver and the little bus was the only one the school had. Perk was a tough skinny little guy about a hundred or so years old who had a low tolerance level for shenanigans. If you were horsing around, he’d warn you once. If you continued horsing around, he’d pull to the side of the dirt road, open the door, order you out and drive away. In this time before suing came into vogue, a lot of things that get labeled child abuse today were a normal part of a child’s existence. You were expected to behave, if you didn’t, you could expect to be punished. I’d probably be a rich man today if I had all the toys I swapped my siblings in return for their silence about a certain older brother of theirs who got a spanking at school that day. My school, North Bangor Union Free School, was for grades one through eight, it had four rooms, two grades per room. You had the same teacher two years in a row which meant that you got away with nothing the second year because she had learned all your tricks the first year. My brother Bud’s teacher kept moving up with him, he had her for all eight grades, she became a member of those students’ families. She came to their graduations, weddings, baby showers and retirement parties. Today I’m sure that the teachers union wouldn’t permit that kind of faculty abuse.

I remember there being a lot more snow then than we usually have in these days of global warming. It may be that it just looked like more because I was a lot closer to the ground than I am now but I don’t think so. We frequently couldn’t see the bus coming because the snow banks on the sides of the road were higher than it was. The wind blowing across the corn fields hit these banks and dropped the load of snow that they had picked up from the fields and this resulted in some really dramatic snow drifts. Encountering a six foot snow drift wasn’t uncommon. Perk’s solution to the problem was to stop, yell, “Big boys out” and hand out the shovels he carried behind the back seats. We dug through, piled back on the bus and headed on to the next drift. Sixty years have passed but when the weather gets nasty, I still ride that little bus. I’ll bet me remembering would make Perk almost smile. I don’t know what happened to him but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he’s still driving a school bus somewhere — probably in Alaska.

Thought for the week — Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog’s face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him for a ride in the car, he sticks his head out the window?

Until next week, may you and yours be happy and well.

Reach Dick Brooks at