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Vertrees: Memories thaw as cold weather sets in

Carrol Vertrees

Carrol Vertrees

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Updated: December 11, 2013 6:13AM



Winter. It’s out there.

I feel warm all over my splendid, aging body every time I think of how cold I was back in our big farmhouse.

My memory thermostat just kicks on automatically. I can count on it.

I was cold most of the time because central heating was not even talked about. My psyche and some other body parts were deeply chilled, but not permanently.

Our little condo is a warm haven — no wind blowing, whistling through the cracks, no coal to shovel. I can relate to people who will be cold this winter because I have been there.

My childhood was a blend of shivering in cold temperatures and feeling lucky in an abundance of warmth around the kitchen table, around the piano and the old battery-powered radio.

Many of my friends shivered through rural winters, too — lacking central heating was not unusual back then, whenever that was. Until I moved into a modest but warm college dorm, I had never lived in a place with central heating or indoor plumbing.

I must, with modesty of course, claim I was quite clever, because on bitter winter mornings, I was ready for the chilly bus that hauled us ruralites to our warm school building. Our house of learning had the inside luxuries that we farm kids appreciated. Faking illness to miss school would have been stupid.

I felt like Ben Franklin when we moved into that big house. We did get electricity and I had not yet tried to fly a kite. Ours was the first one in our community to be electrified and I thought that our cows acted snobbish because there were lights in the barn, too.

In the near-winter of my life, cherishing warm memories of a cold childhood gives me a lift when I need it. It seems to me all of us can be renewed by traveling the road back to our beginnings. Sadness and hardships will all be remembered, but we can find warmth if we try.

In our house there was a kind of undisciplined, undefined order and a feeling of security in all kinds of weather. And, there was a touch of melancholy, of parental worry about making it in a tough world. We kids weren’t supposed to notice. Later in my life, I decided this is part of parenting.

There was religion — our house was about the equivalent of four city blocks from the country church where my mom played the piano and I squirmed on the hard seats and my stomach growled in impatience when the sermons ran long. Sometimes I sang with my mom and dad — a family trio. It made me feel important.

There was music in our house. And corn popped over the little fireplace flames on cold nights. In my busy memory, this all sounds like a rural show that required no rehearsing. And we each had a role.

The farmhouse is gone, replaced by a bigger one, but my memories are immune from destruction by fire or the wrecking ball.

From our chilly upstairs bedroom my brother, an older kid, and I shivered through countless winter nights. And we had spooks who came out at night and made weird sounds — uninvited guests.

As the song goes, “They can’t take that away from me.”

In the bleak winter days just ahead, I will remember it all. And I will be thankful that at my age, I can recall with such detail the days of my beginning.

My memory is quite sharp. Well, our cellphone got itself misplaced and we have a new one. I will get it to work when I remember where my glasses are.



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