I don’t like winter; I think anything below 65 is freezing. I have often contemplated moving further south, like to Mexico. But my language skills have always been a barrier. I know a few Spanish cuss words, but the balance of my espanol is pretty slim. I suspect that I would probably get beat up if I moved down there and not even know why. So I will stick to the gulf coast of Texas, where winters are a total of 20-30 cold days and the rest are pretty good. Of course this is just my opinion, but then I’m doing the writing...so mine’s the only one that counts right now!
Now when I was a kid, growing up in southeastern Colorado, there was plenty of winter to go around. There were weeks that we would be snowed in and could not get out of our driveway. And being in the “kid” stage, snow was still fun. Of course fun was defined as when we could do what we wanted to do and not what Dad wanted us to do. So “fun” varied from day to day when there was snow on the ground. Snow was fun when you sliding down a hill and not so much fun when you were holding wood for the chainsaw. Of course, when you have snow you also have ice. Ice is fun when you are sticking it down your sister’s neck. It’s not much fun when you have to chop it out of a stock tank and therein lays the story…
My Dad was, as still is, full of good advice. One of these pearls of wisdom was on the skill of chopping ice. Whether you are chopping a hole in a pond or a stock tank, you always chop a bigger hole than you need and scoop the ice out. The hole will freeze up smaller, so if it is bigger…it will stay open longer. If you don’t fork out the chopped ice, it will freeze faster…thus your animals will not have anything to drink. Looking back, this makes perfect sense. As a young hon-yak, I tended to only do enough to keep me out of trouble and would take the least amount of time. So I was always chopping a small hole in the ice. After all the cows and horses noses weren’t more than eight, or so, inches around…right? I never forked the broken ice out, any animal worth its salt, could push right through that ice…right? I was a dumb little nut.
One day my brother and I were riding the scoop shovel down the hill by the hay meadow (isn’t that what any kid worth a flip would be doing?) and had been happily doing this for most of the day. It had been my turn to chop the ice and I, being the unreliable little degenerate that I was, had only chopped a small hole in the ice. I knew this would probably come back to bite me later, but there was sledding to be done and I wanted to do my fair share. I always figured I could chop it out later in the day. Ain’t that like a young cowboy…just living for the moment!
That particular day it had been way below freezing all day and Dad happened to check the tanks. Wouldn’t you know it; there was no longer any hole in the ice. He, being the stockman that he is, went ahead and fixed the problem. Then he came looking for my brother and me. I sure he was mad at us, me for not doing a complete job and Cully just for being associated with me. When he found us we got a lecture and a job. The lecture was on our responsibility as owners of animals and the job was because Dad wasn’t a big spanker. I would have rather had the spanking because it over in a minute. Dad punishments tended to last all day. I think that day he had us start shoveling the driveway instead of waiting for the county to snow plow it open. Of course, Cully “Guilt by Association” Johnson (my brother) was a little peeved at me. The next day, Cully let me know pretty quickly that I was going to be the guy chopping ice since I threw him under the bull (so to speak).
So, a little sullenly, I headed down to chop ice. I knew that today, I had better do this right…I was pretty sure Dad would check up on me later. Needless to say the ice was considerably thicker than yesterday. But I had an ax, so I went to choppin’ with gusto. After about two minutes I had a little tiny hole chopped out, not much bigger than the ax head. I raised the ax up for what I know was going to be a mighty ice shattering swing. As my downward swing started I noticed something was drastically wrong. As I watched in horrified slow motion, that ax head slid off the end of the ax close to the bottom of the swing and slipped ever so gently into that miniscule hole in the ice. Never to be seen again. The next words out of my mouth were of the variety my uncle George had taught me and I won’t repeat them here. I knew I was going to be in a mess of trouble and what happened next was right of the bible. Some would say that I had a temper tantrum. I prefer to think that, at that moment I was possessed by a demon. I commence to hollering and cussing and flayin’ around shovels and buckets.
Once the possession was over and I was somewhat returned to normal, I started trying to think my way out of the situation. I knew that I was supposed to be paying attention to what I was doing, and I am now pretty sure that Dad would have understood what had happened, but then I wasn’t so sure about it. At the time, I just understood that I was in a mess of trouble. Part of any thinking process is thinking outside the box. In a flash, I came up with a way to break the ice. It was still pretty thick, so I figured I could just jump up and down until I heard it crack. Then I could take the pitchfork, break it and fork the ice out. Genius, huh?
So there I was, jumping up and down…on a frozen over stock tank. I was carefully listening for that telltale crack. But after five minutes, my patience had worn out. I was just jumping. I finally said enough is enough. One final time I gave a mighty leap and with all of the weight a 60 pound boy can muster, slammed my feet into the ice. The next moment I found myself up to my chest in icy cold water, standing in a hole that was just barely bigger around than my body. I again was possessed by that demon, because not only my was my body standing in what amounted to a great big cup of ice, but my new high top boots (that I’d got for Christmas) were also in the water. I started flailing around trying to get out, which didn’t amount to much more than waving my arms and hollering! I couldn’t do much more than that because those little tiny holes I had been chopping were the only weak spot in the ice, and that was all that broke. I could get no leverage to pull myself out, I was for all intent and purposes…trapped. I knew eventually Dad would come down to check on me when I didn’t show up at the house by nightfall, but I figured by then I would be a Corysicle. I was just hoping that I was yelling loud enough that someone would hear me.
Cully happened to be close enough to hear and came to see what had happened, and being the good big brother that he was….he fell to his knees laughing at me. After the proper amount of brotherly laughter and teasing, which in my mind seemed about ten hours, I started to think that everything below my chest was about froze off. Cully finally got enough composure to pull me out and let me tell you, I was dang cold! My teeth were chattering like a machine gun and I couldn’t feel any of my lower regions, but then at that point I wasn’t even sure I still had lower regions. Being the good big brother that he was, Cully was not about to get in trouble again. He made sure we chopped and forked the ice out of the hole, he even insisted that we make the hole bigger. Of course, when I say we…I mean he made me do it while he supervised. I could only think about two things:
1. It was cold and I was cold. If you’ve ever wondered how cold a well diggers butt was, I probably could have told you that day.
2. My new tall top boots were soaking wet and still full of water, I just knew they were ruint!
After he made me finish, I hot footed it up to the house (there’s an oxymoron, my feet were anything but hot). I got to the house and realized I had a new problem. The water in my brand new tall top boots had created suction and I could not get them off my feet. I had all of my brother’s help I wanted for the day, so I was not about to ask him. But I figured that if I could get the water out of the boots they would eventually come off. I had remembered reading a John Erickson book where he had a similar problem, so in my eleven year old brilliance…I thought I would try that process.
I laid down on my back and put my feet in the air, thinking that the water would drain out and I could get my boots off to change clothes. There is not an eleven year old in the world yet that understands the law of gravity and water flow. I was no exception. As I raised my legs that water came cascading down my legs and too late I realized where that water was headed. I had just thought I was numb from standing in that stock tank, it turns out that I wasn’t all that frozen after all. Now I won’t go into detail about where that ice water hit and the results of said ice water bath, but I think it goes unspoken (by most men anyway) that I had a reason to commence yelling again. Mom came running out to see what had happened, and all she could do was laugh, what is it with my family? Here I was I dire straits, with frozen nether regions and all they can do is laugh?
On the plus side, she did help take my boots off and they were not ruined. Once they had dried and I had warmed up a little, I headed back outside. After all, wasn’t there some sledding to be done? And what kid worth his salt wouldn’t be doing that on a snow day?