Sheepskin Coats and Goulashes
As fall approached, preparations were begun to make sure we all had clothing to get us through the long cold winter months. Mom would inventory the previous year's coats, mittens, long johns, and etc. to make sure each of us would have the proper sizes available. Shopping trips to Irwin Phillips in Keokuk were undertaken, to be supplemented by ordering from the ever handy copy of the Monkey Wards catalogue.
Somehow before the first snow flew, we had our new and/or hand-me-downs ready.
Getting ready for the first sojourn into the fresh snowfall was quiet a feat. Long johns were sometimes slipped into followed by one or two pairs of blue jeans. Then came the various scarves.
The sheepskin coats were not of the fancy sort. Highly utilitarian, they were made of heavy brown cotton drill which overlapped and buttoned down the front. The lining was of white and wooly sheepskin. Oh, so warm.
The goulashes were of the four or five buckle sort with great treads. Of course the blue jeans were tucked snuggly inside.
Finally after donning an appropriate hat and putting on the mittens we headed out the door into some of the most spectacular snows imaginable. Having a street on a hill right in front of the house was most fortunate. In the forties, the street was unpaved gravel. After a few vehicles made their way down the hill the packed ruts were ready. If we got there before the vehicles, we would tramp down and up the street packing the trail ourselves. No salt trucks in those days. The city would get around sooner or later with a truck load of cinders which the crew would shovel onto the hill. As soon as the truck disappeared around the corner, we would appear with brooms and sweep all the cinders to the side.
Almost ready, but not quite... We got out the sleds and some sandpaper. In a few minutes all the rust was expertly removed from the sled runners. (It is sadly true that you could stick your tongue to the shinny, cold steel.) Taking a quick run, it was a easy jump to belly flop onto the sled and head down the hill. At the corner we would navigate around onto 4th street and continue as far as the momentum would allow. As the track became more compacted and faster, it was possible to complete the run to Laurel and there turn on down the hill to the highway. With a quick glance to determine that no traffic was coming it was possible to continue on down the highway. If traffic was approaching, all that was needed was to quickly flip the sled over and get out of the way. Dad determined that this was too dangerous, so put out the edict that the end of the run would be at Laurel street with a right turn towards the Mills' house. I guess that was a good idea, as none of us ever tangled with traffic.
There were two pair of skis in the attic. These were left behind by the two older brothers. The shorter pair was held on the feet with simple leather straps. The other had a spring tension mechanism that clamped onto the boot. Both were wood and required an application of Johnson's Wax before use. We used the Pellet yard and other less traveled areas for our skiing forays.
Snowmen and snow forts with enthusing snowball fights were also among the activities of the winter day. I should mention that the neighborhood gang was an all-important part of the outdoor activities. We competed and we shared. Pinky, Billy, Terry, and at times Helen were there. Younger, but for the most part still welcome were Tommy and the Fenten kids. Have I forgotten anyone?
Well, after a day, or perhaps just hours, or perhaps just minutes, (depending on the weather), we would call it quits and head back to the house. Clothing was taken off in the reverse order with boots and mittens placed on the cold air registers to dry. When finally down to removing the blue jeans, (which were invariably wet, through and through), we found out why they were called blue jeans. Although one would expect the skin on the legs to be pink with cold, the color was actually blue; the blue dye having bled from the wet blue jeans. Luck would have it though. The color was not permanent.
I don't know if outerwear has improved over the years, or is it just the manufacturing process has changed? We were contented with what we were fortunate to have been provided with.
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