A Midwinter Night

As we fast approach the long, dark, lonely nights of winter, I find that with all the strife and hatred in the world, I spend much of my time living with my pleasant memories of boyhood past. One of the most pleasant of all these are the times I spent with my father. Not only was he the most compassionate man I ever knew but also the most interesting. His kindness, concern and care of the many animals on the farm was something not often seen.

The memory that popped up the other day as I was putting up Christmas decorations was a night about this time before Christmas when I was about 3 years old. The day before the night I recall, I had gone to the icehouse with mother to take his lunch to him. In those days the harvesting of ice was powered by a steam hoist. The boiler for this was a rented boiler that had to be transported from McCormic on Taunton Avenue then through the woods to be set up in the engine house. My mother and I stayed until this was completed and the boiler brought up to pressure and the equipment tested. By this time the other uncles had left to start the evening chores at the farm. The fire was banked for the night and on the walk home father cut a tree for our Christmas.

The boiler was fired with soft coal and unless tended the fire would not last until the next morning when everyone returned after morning chores were finished. That meant that my father, being the engineer, had to get up about 2:00 am and walk about a mile through the woods to do this. I was intrigued by his telling of the stars and sounds of these mid-winter walks and I begged him to take me on one of them.

This came about on a night after our Christmas tree was set up in our living room at 270 Marten Street. He came into my bedroom sometime after midnight, waking me he said “If you really want to go with me this is the night we should do it”. While I was getting dressed in my warmest clothes he went down and made cocoa. When I came down to the warm kitchenwith the black iron stove fired up, he took me in to see that the tree had been trimmed the night before. With thoughts of Christmas Morning, and a cup of hot cocoa to warm me, we left the house to walk through the woods to the icehouse.

It was a cold, clear, star bright night with no wind. We had had a light dusting of snow the day before and the irridescent light off the new snow made the night as bright as an overcast day. My father kept me from noticing the cold with stories of what Christmas was like in his day. In spite of this I was chilled through when he opened the enginehouse door. To this day I can recall the smell of soft coal, valve oil and heat that met us. While he worked on the boiler I sat in his engineer’s seat and for the first time in my life heard the booming of the ice forming on the pond; one of the sounds he had mentioned. After banking the fire we left to return home and back to bed. On the way we stopped at the top of the big hill to admire the still night and the bright starlight. As we gazed at the wonder of this a fox barked below us. I had never heard this and would not have known what animal had made it. He explained that it was one of several red or gray foxes that lived in the woods of the farm.

When we returned to the warm kitchen I went back to bed with thoughts of how lucky I was to be part of a wonderful family with Christmas on the way and my having such a great man as my father.