An old-fashioned winter


When the cold winds of winter begin to blow. When the anticipation of Christmas becomes the letdown of Christmas past. When days are short and nights become incredibly dark and long. When children are house-bound and bored with their techni-toys. That’s when Mom and Dad (or Grandma and Grandpa) can step in and provide some new experiences with an old-fashioned twist.

Life for 21st Century children has become so fixed on small screens... television, computers, gameboys and the like... taking a break once in a while and stepping into the past can be a real learning experience, as well as a time of bonding for a family.

In my younger days, a Currier and Ives print hanging in our hallway portrayed the ideal old-fashioned winter. It depicted a Victorian couple, bundled warmly against the cold, enjoying a ride across the snowy landscape in a horse-drawn sleigh. It’s slightly amusing to realize that our grandchildren can now consider our growing up winters as old-fashioned!

With no television to watch, and no video games to play, we did the next best thing for our entertainment: played games with our siblings and parents, read books, and spent a lot of time outdoors,playing in the snow. Since there were no TV weather persons to warn us about wind chill, we often stayed out much longer than we should have, seemingly without many ill effects. It may be my small child’s perception that there was more and deeper snow back then than now. There was actually enough to build forts,which always preceded a good snowball fight, or tunnels to crawl through.

With no major highways and not many places to go for entertainment anyway, there was not a lot of traffic through our town. Our perfectly flat, western Ohio streets, unsalted and unscraped, treated us to hours of sledding. For Sugarcreek children, that pastime was much more thrilling. Living in the hills presents some great advantages. It’s difficult to imagine in this day and age that a village’s main street would be closed to traffic so the kids could sled from the top of the hill, down through the business section and across a bridge at the other edge of the town. What fun!

Speaking of family bonding, many were the mornings when we children would race down the stairs to escape the cold and warm our backsides at the coal stove in the living room. We also experienced the joy of sharing the task of carrying out the ashes. My childhood memories include the smell of freshly popped popcorn and hot cocoa that awaited us upon our arrival from school, and clean, frozen laundry defrosting on the coal stove.

Things weren’t perfect in the “good old days”, but some good practices are worth keeping. It was actually a trip through Lehman’s in Kidron that made me consider some of the “good” things we have lost as we progressed through the past century. Since Lehman’s serves those in the world who do without modern conveniences that we all enjoy, the shelves are stocked with items most of us do not use anymore, but speak to a time many of us look to with a certain wistfulness. No glamour, no glitz, no bells and whistles (perhaps there are bells and whistles), just good, old-fashioned products that produce good, old-fashioned results.

Lehman’s Racer, a wooden sled with metal runners, and toboggans long enough to carry several people down a hill harken back to those winters I remember. Grandparents concerned that their grandchildren spend too much time watching TV or playing video games look for games and toys that foster creativity and support interaction within the family. They (and parents) can find classic games (checkers and chess) and time-tested board and card games. Looms for learning to weave or make pot holders and kits for needlepoint, crocheting, knitting and cross stitch appeal to the creative side of children and teach skills along the way.

An old standby, jigsaw puzzles, can keep a family busy for an entire winter. Today’s puzzles come in all shapes and sizes. Some are even designed to involve the entire family, with pieces within the puzzle ranging from large for smaller children and smaller for adults.

A wall full of cookie cutters and other baking utensils reminded me of the hours we spent with our mother in the kitchen, baking cookies and making candy. Gingerbread houses now come in kits for easy assembly by children with a parent’s help. Do children today know that the best popcorn does not come in a microwavable bag, but from a pan or a Whirley Pop corn popper?

The real appeal of Amish country is not its shops, but its people. We are drawn to the simplicity of their lifestyle, to their values and their strong commitment to family and community. We look to a way of life that no longer exists in the fast-moving, fast-forward world we live in, where innovation and obsolescence go hand in hand.

Winter is a great time for rebuilding and restoring some of the family experiences we may not be able to fit into busy schedules the rest of the year. Time spent with family and friends around a dining room table or in front of a fireplace; working together in the kitchen preparing food; playing games or completing puzzles; sledding down a snowy hill... or telling stories from the past... all make memories for the future.

And if you really want to experience a Currier and Ives moment, take the family to Guggisburg Swiss Inn in Charm for a winter sleigh ride.

In Amish country, an old-fashioned winter is about life... plain and simple.