It seemed that during every winter in the 1940s, we had several snows deep enough to go sledding on the hills in the Southside. There were no snowplows or trucks that spread cinders or chemicals on the streets. Only on some occasions did city workers spread cinders with shovels from a truck onto the busiest streets. Cars couldn’t make it up the steeper hills and usually got stuck; they simply had to back down to the bottom and try a different street. The police blocked off those hills as impassable, which allowed kids to go sledding on them without having to cope with traffic. That put mothers’ minds at ease.
The steep hill of the 500 block of Broadway, next to our house, was often blocked off. We kids took a running start at the top, at Elm Street, plopped down on our wood Red Flyers with metal runners, and whizzed down for two blocks, passing Miller and coasting all the way to McCarty Street. We marked the spot where we stopped and tried to go farther the next time. The Red Flyers had a steering mechanism, so we sometimes tried to crash into each other on the way down. We went faster with two on a sled, one lying on top of the other, but then we often fell off and the runaway sled jumped a curb or worse, went all the way to McCarty with us sliding and chasing after it.
When we got cold to the bone, we went inside. Mom had a pan of warm milk on the stove, and we poured ourselves cupfuls, stirred in some cocoa powder, and floated a big, fat marshmallow on top to sweeten it. We declared it ready to drink only after the marshmallow melted completely.
Because most everyone walked in the Southside, men shoveled their sidewalks before they went to work in the morning. If it snowed during the day, children were expected to have the sidewalks shoveled or swept with a broom before their fathers came home from work.
We made snowmen, of course. The front-yard terraces of the Southside came in handy for this. We started the snowball at the top and let it roll down the terrace so that it ended up as a big ball on the sidewalk. Three rolls down the terrace produced three big balls that we could stack. Maybe even a fourth. Small pieces of coal made eyes and buttons. All the houses on Elm Street had snowmen in front of them. They were like vigilant soldiers guarding the houses.
Speaking of coal, everyone heated with coal. Much of it was “soft” Missouri coal. It was cheaper, but it didn’t burn “clean” as hard, “smokeless” coal from Illinois did. Coal dust was constantly in the air, and when you blew your nose, whatever came out was always gray and discolored your white handkerchief. People coughed and cleared their throats a lot.
We got our hard coal delivered by October. During the war years, fear of coal shortages made people get their supply as soon as they could afford it. The big coal truck backed up to our basement garage doors. The men extended a long chute from the truck bed into the coal bin in our basement. Large chunks of coal tumbled down the chute into the bin. It was noisy, filthy work.
Mom did her best to prepare her house by shutting the registers and putting rugs over cold-air return vents, but coal dust still invaded through all the miniscule cracks and came to rest on her white window curtains and everywhere. Like most Southside mothers, she took pride in a clean house and spent the next couple of days dusting and washing.
The fire in our coal furnace would die down during the cold nights, and the first thing Dad did when he got up was put a couple shovels of coal into the furnace and get the fire blazing again. During the day, if it got cool in the house (no thermostats), Mom asked me to put a shovelful in the furnace, which I liked to do. I imagined the orange flames of the fiery furnace must have been like the gates of hell that people in church warned me about.
Dad removed the coal ashes every evening, put them in a metal bucket, and set the bucket on the curb of the Broadway Street hill. Alongside he stuck a shovel in the snow so that motorists who got stuck in snow or ice trying to make it up the hill would have some help. It worked, because the ashes kept disappearing, but never the shovel.
My brother and I slept on the third floor of our house, which was really an attic under the steeply sloping (uninsulated) roof. There was only one heat register up there for all that space. When it was time to get up on a cold morning, we would first hang our underpants over the hot air vent to warm them up; then we went back in bed for a few more minutes. Next, we did the same thing with our shirts, and crawled back under the covers under the shirts warmed up. Ditto with pants. When we were finally dressed, we closed the register vent and went downstairs to eat breakfast. It would be wasteful to heat the third floor during the day.
Most of the windows of our house did not have storm windows. Our second floor was high above Broadway and caught the strong, winter north winds, and the windows rattled endlessly. Mom stuffed a lot of newspapers in those windows to keep them from rattling and placed old towels around them to sop up moisture. Of course, we closed window shades and curtains on the coldest days.
Without storm windows, frost formed on the inside of the window panes, and my brother and I played endless games of tic-tac-toe with our fingernails, scratching in the frost. Though our house had extra-thick brick walls, it was not insulated, and once the bricks got cold, the coldness crept into the rooms. No one sat near the windows or the walls.
Broadway School, now the Carpenters’ Hall on Dunklin Street, had a cloakroom for each of the six classrooms. The first grade cloakroom is now the men’s restroom, and the sixth grade cloakroom is now the women’s restroom on the first floor of Carpenters’ Hall. Each pupil had a hook in the cloakroom for hanging his/her coat and a shelf above for caps. We all wore galoshes over our shoes on wet or snowy days, and we set them neatly on the floor beneath our coats. Doing that kept the floors of the classrooms nice and dry.
Parents made their kids wear galoshes to protect their shoes. We only had leather shoes (no athletic or canvas shoes in those days), and they were expensive and needed to last all year. Many of us wore hand-me-down galoshes, since galoshes hardly ever wore out. We even put on our galoshes to go outside for recess on snowy days, which made it hard to run.
Recesses in the snow were fun because we always got into snowball fights, although the teachers tried to stop the fights because the brown pea gravel from the playground would get caught up in the snowball. Since everyone walked, even teachers, school was never cancelled for snow.
Wear’s Creek froze over quite often. We could slide on long stretches of ice around the Washington Street bridge, and if we broke through, it wasn’t too bad, because the water was only a few inches deep. Not so on Wear’s Creek over by Washington Park. We first threw rocks as hard as we could to test the ice before going out on it, which was just as much fun. Hey, winter was a great time!
Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.
If you liked this post, you might also like this one, from a Munichburg resident, on the Opulent Opossum blog: “Slippery Slope.”
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