The sun shifts to low or disappears under gray sprawls. On the back doorstep the milk freezes and shoots a cylinder of cream above the bottle; the paper cap perches on top. Mother spoons some onto our cocoa, and dabs it on the oatmeal, hot from the kettle.Skip to next paragraph
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She never measures the ingredients.
''I could make oatmeal in my sleep,'' she says. And sometimes she appears to be doing so, just out of bed, wrapped in a blue robe she made from a blanket.
The house is cold, the furnace slow to respond to its stoking. We have to dress hurriedly for school, barely warming one side at a time near an electric heater. My big sister Katie and I change from knit pajamas to cotton dresses with matching bloomers, draw on coarse lisle stockings held by elastic garters which threaten to snap apart treacherously. When it's this cold, we cease complaining about wearing them.
I step into brown scratchy wool snow pants and galoshes. The buckles are stiff and bruise my fingers. I pause to play with Sandycat.
''Better get a move on,'' Mother warns. ''You'll be late.''
My brother Jimmy throws on his Mackinaw over his corduroy knickers and takes off without his galoshes. Mother calls him back.
Katie and I set out, squeak on the packed snow. With his long legs, Jimmy soon passes us. Up the street Gladys joins Katie. I have to struggle to keep up with the older kids. We slide on stretches of ice. A welter of black galoshes patches the walkways. At school we separate. The cloakroom teems with the crush of garments, smells of rubber and wet wool.
I dip my penpoint in the desk inkwell and practice overlapping circles and rows of letters exact as smocking. The Palmer Method. More smudges than usual.
Snowflakes we scalloped from paper splash the classroom windows, stuck precariously with library paste but melt from our eyes when we look outside. For it has started to snow again, thick as petals from a cherry tree, on top of last week's heavy snow.
''School's closing early,'' someone calls down the hall. ''And it's Friday.''
Saturday is clear, the blizzard is over. Perfect for sledding down the dead-end hill and through the nearby woods. It takes skill to dodge the trees. Our mongrel, Mac, romps beside us, ecstatic in the snow. He pulls the Flexible Flyer uphill for me.
The boys build forts on the edge of the Miltons' woods. In bitter weather they allow us to skate on their pond, to weave and explore around its two islands. The boys play hockey, and scrap over the puck.
''Let's hold a snow sculpture competition,'' Katie suggests. ''Between the girls and the boys. Have parents judge, one mother and one father.''
We girls pick a site where we can see the Miltons' Japanese garden with its bridge and miniature pagoda, crystallized now into an exotic setting. We decide to sculpture Sonja Henie, the ice princess. The older girls direct.
''Bring some packed snow over here, Betsy,'' Katie says. I press it against the sapling we use to support Sonja's lithe form. Gladys adds iced sticks for blades. She's beautiful.
Across the way the boys roll huge drums of snow, pile them into a colossal figure. We can't guess who it is. They mold boots, and a cowboy hat, one boy standing on another's shoulders. Then to erase any doubts, they etch TOM MIX at the base. They listen to his program on the radio.
The judges are called. They walk around, admire our work and consult. Mrs. Milton gives the decision.
''It's a tie,'' she announces. ''Sonja gets a blue ribbon for elegance, and Tom for his tremendous size.''
Back home I warm with cocoa and watch cars skid and spray snow laced with coal ashes. Ashes have to be shaken down and emptied from the furnace, then collected by the ashmen. I like to see the coal truck back into position in our driveway, and thunder the coal in a black cloud down the chute into our bin.
Sunday afternoon turns gray and raw. We work at wooden jigsaw puzzles, bicker , play Parcheesi, roughhouse.
''That's enough,'' Mother says. ''Why don't you children do your homework - school tomorrow.''
Oh. I get a book and curl up with Sandycat.
''Sandycat,'' my father says, ''believes in reserving his strength in winter.''
After Sunday supper we roast marshmallows in the fireplace, prolonging this treat as long as possible.
Reluctantly, I go to bed, dreading Monday and school. The upstairs is warm now, and the hall light that looks like a candle guides me to sleep.
Later my parents will bank down the furnace and snap off the lights. If I waken at midnight, I'll hear little creaking sounds the house makes as it settles into the cold.