Sally and I have been going through a mountain of photographs from the past, some from her parents, some from my parents, some of our own.
One of the earliest ones is of me in a snowsuit standing in front of a snowman. I was about 2 years of age. The snowman had on a big hat made of hard packed snow with a brim that stuck out about 5 inches from the crown. It was quite a sight!
Another picture reminded me of the time when I was about 8 or 9, and I found a partial roll of tarpaper in my grandfather's garage. It seemed to be left over from a job. I asked him for the tarpaper so I could build a cabin in the woods. He had a property of about 5 acres, two of which were dense with conifers and deciduous trees. I found a place that would lend itself to a secluded cabin where I could pretend there were various wild creatures about at night, but that I would be safe. It was really a far cry from a cabin but my imagination made it seem grander than it really was. I would go there especially in the wintertime when there was a thick layer of snow on the ground so I could follow animal trails for adventure.
One Christmas, Dad and Mother gave me a pair of Paris, Maine, hickory skis with steel edges. I used them every chance I had. Dad and I built a little ski jump on a nearby hill at the end of our street. He never said it, but I think he hoped that I would become as good or better a skier as he had been as a boy in Maine. My most memorable and disappointing experience on skis happened much later when I was going cross-country on Mount Tom in East Hampton, Mass. I was in the lead of several students from Williston Academy the day after a heavy snow had covered the trail. About half way along, a tree had blown down. It was across the trail and covered with snow. While I was watching for clues for such hazards, I missed this one. One ski went under the tree and one went over it. The result was a broken ski and a broken leg. That was the end of the beautiful hickory skis.
One photo was from a trip to Brattleboro, Vt., to watch the celebrated Torger Tokle, the most famous and popular of the many Norwegian skiers who immigrated to the U.S. in the '30s and '40s. He was a member of the Norwegian army ski patrol and was killed in Italy near the end of the Second World War. Sometimes described as the Babe Ruth of American ski sports, Tokle was so skilled in jumping that he could potentially over jump the hill and land in the flat. He didn't demonstrate this at Brattleboro because although it was a tall tower and steep downhill, it was not challenging enough for him. He was a graceful figure in the air and that thrilled the audience. I cheered along with the hundreds of people there watching, and I was stimulated to learn how to jump. I never jumped anywhere near as high as Tokle did, of course. I was small change, compared to him.
We must have hundreds of winter pictures, but the next ones I found were taken at the Winter Carnival at the University of Massachusetts. A feature of this event was the snow sculptures in front of every dormitory and every fraternity and sorority house on campus. It was quite a spectacle and drew a lot of attention, including the Boston newspapers.
In most cases they were large structures of a Santa Claus and his helpers and sacks of toys for the children, a snow castle complete with dragons and a fairy queen and once, a quarter-size copy of old Main with students skating on the pond in front.
Every year the sponsors provided new designs for the competition. Of course, some years the temperatures did not permit ice sculptures.
A Winter Ball celebrated the conclusion of the Winter Carnival where prizes were awarded for the best snow sculptures and a queen was crowned. It was always a highlight of the winter at the university.
As much as I enjoyed the winter weather, I also enjoyed a crackling fireplace in a cozy room, as I do now.
Thomas is a Tribune Chronicle columnist.