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Great traditions of sleigh-riding

The 12 days of Christmas are gone ... almost as if they hadn’t come at all.

Everyone’s counting the days until winter ends and it will be warm enough to sit in the Abbey Gardens wearing slacks and a jumper smelling faintly of moth balls.

Speaking of winter, I’ve some wild memories of the Pennsylvania snowstorms of my childhood.

In January, 1970, my friend Bob was parked near our high school. After lessons, we had indoor track-and-field practice, so he didn’t get outside again until evening.

Meantime, a blizzard headed our way, and the winds were gusting out of the west.

At 1,886 feet above sea level in the Upper Appalachian mountains, the bleak rocky spine on which my hometown stands, the winds can certainly blow.

After practice, Bob searched for his car, but the sudden storm had wafted six-meter high snowdrifts, hiding everyone’s wheels.

He finally found it days later after the frost began subsiding.

When I tell people around here about the annual inches of snow, the killer wind-chill factors, and the ice glaze of my childhood winters, they literally shudder.

“Crikey, you must be tough,” they say. And you know what? I am.

Okay, okay, I enjoyed air-conditioned cars, centrally-heated buildings, wood burners and industrial-strength thermal underwear, but, the fact is, for at least five months every year, we faced weather potent enough to kill a moose.

I think that’s what makes Pennsylvanians so stoic. But long-suffering people know how to have fun, too, especially children.

I’ll never forget January, 1965. Lyndon B Johnson was president. I Feel Fine by The Beatles was top of the US pops. The Winter Olympics were held in Austria.

And closer to home, that was the winter when I went to bed one Sunday night under clear skies with clear pavements and streets, and was greeted at dawn by about three meters of pristine snow the shade of the Caribbean Ocean.

While blue snow is rare, it does happen. And, of course, the cold comes into play, but the sapphire hue isn’t due to the low temperatures; it’s actually to do with the way the light strikes the snow.

Hearing school had been cancelled, I pulled on jeans and a coat over my pyjamas and tore outside, ploughing head-first into the first drift of blue stuff I saw.

Within minutes, my brother and some other children had joined me.

No school meant snowballs flew like confetti in a ticker-tape parade.

Typically, the children from a dozen more streets suddenly appeared, and the fun lasted until our red fingers and noses stung, our pant-legs and socks were frozen, and more snow began dropping.

In midwinter, Pennsylvania is to sledging what St Moritz is to ski-ing.

Two or three times a month, school would be cancelled thanks to the blizzards howling through town like a New York taxi cab approaching an amber light.

Dozens of children used to earn money shovelling snow off people’s pavements across the area.

Sometimes, we’d blow our takings by racing down town for an afternoon matinee. We’d buy hot buttered popcorn and hot chocolate and see a double-feature, only to come out into the frozen darkness three hours later to find more snow falling.

While we’ve far less snowfall here, I made sure my children enjoyed the great traditions of sleigh-riding, snowballing and tramping across vast white fields of newly-fallen snow, pretending we’re in deepest Hudson’s Bay instead of Bury’s slushy water meadows.

The holiday memories may be as stale as mum’s Christmas cake, but I plan to have plenty of fun between now and Easter here in Bury.

-- Popular speaker and lecturer Michael Apichella is an award-winning writer and an artist who’s made the UK his home for well over 30 years. Visit his Website at www.michaelapichella.com, contact him at apichellaspeaker@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter, @MApichellaPhD.


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