Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Snow Forts

School_kids_in_a_snow_fort_(23677889675)

Provincial Archives of Alberta [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Staring at the snow piles around my driveway after shoveling snow yesterday, I was reminded of the snow forts we used to build as kids in Youngstown during those winters when we would get all those snows off of Lake Erie.

The best snows for snow forts were the heavier ones because the snow would pack easier. Sometimes we would just mound up and pack the snow into walls. Or we would get a sturdy box–a wooden box was best–and make snow bricks by packing the snow in the box, then turning it over and adding it to our wall. This allowed us to make curves, or even igloos. Sometimes we would create tunnels to crawl through. If it didn’t snow more than a few inches, you’d end up using all the snow in your yard for your snow fort!

Of course, the reason for a snow fort was to have epic snow ball fights. When you had a snow fort, you didn’t have to make your snow balls one at a time during the fight. You could stockpile them, even let them get hard overnight. Then the unsuspecting neighbor kid who walked by would get clobbered.

Or you could do staged battles–a capture the fort sort of thing. I suspect forts got captured fairly often, unless you had more defenders than attackers. Snow balls really aren’t that good at stopping people!

The strangest thing is that we would often be out there for hours at a time. I don’t remember all the warnings about wind chill. I’m convinced that our nerve endings didn’t fully mature until we were adults. We’d be digging and building and battling in the snow and think nothing of the cold. Sure mom bundled us up in snow pants and coat, scarves, hats, gloves and boots (remember the boots you would pull on over your shoes?). Now, I’m out there snow shoveling for a half-hour, and I’m ready to come in for a hot shower and some coffee.

In my neighborhood, there weren’t many of us who went to ski resorts in the winter. But we found plenty of things to keep us busy–ice skating, sledding, or building snow forts and having snow battles. For a good snow fort, all you needed was snow, a shovel, a sturdy box, and your hands. What could be simpler or more fun?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Snow Days

My father-in-law during a big snow storm before we were born (late 40s-early 50s) courtesy Marilyn Trube used with permission

My father-in-law during a big snow storm before we were born (late 40s-early 50s) courtesy Marilyn Trube used with permission

You remember what a delicious feeling it was. Dad comes into your bedroom and tells you that you can sleep in today. School is cancelled because of a big snow fall. Maybe you were up and heard the news on the radio and jumped up and down with jubilation–especially if you were supposed to have a test or do a report that day. At very least you had an unexpected day free of classes, cafeteria food or sack lunches, and bells.

I don’t remember that we had huge numbers of these in Youngstown. Unlike Columbus, which seems to cancel school at the drop of a snowflake (we joke in my house of it being “the great white death”), you had to have more than six inches of snow–a real blizzard that was ongoing–to cancel school. Otherwise it was boots on and off to school. Parents all knew how to drive in snow, and the worst that happened was that sometimes you were tardy–and sometimes you got a break on that.

But there were those rare times when we got buried on a school day. Usually, the first thing was to help the parents dig out. We only had a short stretch of sidewalk but a long driveway that went down a hill to a detached garage. Houses were pretty close together so when you were between the two houses, the question became where to put the snow without piling it up against the neighbor’s windows. That was a bit of work, but the reward was to come in to some hot chocolate and a warm house.

Then there were all those great outdoor things you could do. I remember building snow forts and having epic snowball fights with friends. Usually when it snowed heavy, it snowed wet and it was great for making blocks of snow (a wood or sturdy cardboard box made a great mold!), and of course the snow packed well for snowballs.

There were also snow men, which seemed to be something we did when we were younger–complete with some charcoals, a carrot nose, an old hat and some sticks for arms. Sometimes it would get really cold after these snows and our forts and snow men would hang around for weeks. Unfortunately, back then, they would also start turning a bit gray as soot from the mills would settle on them making them look a bit grubby unless we got a fresh layer of snow. I don’t think we thought then about the fact that we were breathing this stuff as well!

Of course this was a great time to go sled riding as well. I discovered on my recent post on sledding that many of us called it “sled riding” back then. I also learned that in addition to Calvary Run and Glacier Avenue and Rocky Ridge, there were a number of other awesome places around the city to go sledding like “Suicide Hill” (also called Ski Hill) in the park, up at Crandall Park and the Kensington Hollow, St Joseph’s in Campbell, Ipe’s field in Brownlee Woods and many others. Some readers of these posts reminded me of how our parents would put bread bags over our feet inside our boots to keep our feet dry and how all our boots smelled like bread!

Often, we would get home by late afternoon, pleasantly tired, just in time to watch some of the late afternoon TV shows for kids like a show that we remember as “Four O’Clock Showtime” (we’re not sure of the exact name but it had all these great old sci-fi flicks). All those outdoor activities worked up an appetite, but suppers in working class Youngstown were usually early, sometime around 5 pm so you weren’t hungry for long. Then as evening came along, you realized that there would be school tomorrow, and you better do that homework (if you hadn’t already!).

I still find myself wishing for snow days–until I remember that I do a good deal of work out of my home and that the internet is still up and even if I can’t get to the campus where I work, I can still work from home. But visiting those memories recalls the delight of those wonderful words “schools closed”.

What are your memories of snow days?