I have mentioned many times my love of the snow and cold. And that love is genuine. Some of my earliest memories include being out with my dad while he worked outside in the wintertime. I can remember feeling the cold of winter creeping in past my gloves and boots to nip at my fingers and toes. It wasn’t long before I learned that the best way to stay warm was to get busy and go to work. (Of course the worse thing to do was to huddle down and shiver.) Back then, I really liked being outside even though I was cold, more than I liked to be inside the house where it was warm. So after the work was finished, often even at night, my playtime was out in the cold.
One year we were hit with an especially hard winter. To me it was a really fun winter. The snows just kept coming that year, and the winds kept blowing. It wasn’t long before our half mile long lane from the main road was drifted in deeper than I had ever seen it before (or since). That road was snowed in for weeks. Along with the snow and blow, came the Artic air. The sustained -40 Fahrenheit gave the drifted snow such a hard crust that we soon could drive our cars and trucks up over the drifts. Our station wagon parked on a snow drift in front of our house. The car was as high as the eves of the house.
Finally, the snowplow came to open our road once again. It took that massive plow many hours of backing up and ramming that crusted snow to plow down our half mile of road. Left in its wake were the largest snow boulders I have ever seen. Many of them were as large as our cars and trucks. Some were even larger. I could climb up on this ice age snow bank and look down at the cars and trucks as they passed on the newly opened road. I remember thinking that I shouldn’t touch the power lines running along the road, which were buried so deep in the snow bank that I could have touched them easily. I spent the rest of this winter’s playtime exploring the many ice caves created along the roadside snow bank.
During this time, I always wished I had skis to get around on. The snow was so crusted that I could walk on it anywhere as if I were walking on the solid ground, but the idea of playing around on skis was intriguing. I watched a friend once waxing his wooden skis and wished that I had a pair of skis to use. I knew back then that skiing was a rich man’s sport. So with all my love of playing out in the snow in the wintertime, until last Saturday I had never actually gotten on a pair of snow skis.
Thotman and I had been talking about my “Never done list”. In referring to my statement that I had never kissed anyone except my Beautiful Wife, never smoked or drank, never gambled and never gone snow skiing, He said that he didn’t think he should lead me into immorality, or make a drunk out of me. And that I had actually been gambling my whole life anyway… so the only thing left for him to offer, was to take me skiing.
The thought was very intriguing to me. At this stage of my life there were two reasons why I would just put it on my “Never done it” list without giving any thought to actually doing it. First, I am now just an old dog. I don’t know the first thing about the equipment, where to go, or what to do once I got there. And then secondly, I still knew that it was a rich man’s sport, and I’m not rich.
Well, to shorten my story, let’s just skip to last Saturday. I found myself up at a mountain ski resort with Thotman. I learned that day that if the name Thotman had been taken, he could have assumed the name Skiman just as well. I’ve read his blog “A Dance With The Mountain” and as good as he is with words, he still doesn’t fully convey his passion for skiing.
I loved every minute of that afternoon. Thotman is a great ski instructor, and my clumsiness on skis didn’t seem to discourage him a bit. I was hoping that before the day was through, I would be able to ski down the gradual slope next to the rope tow and learn enough to stop myself using the snowplow (instead of the headplow) technique he was teaching me. But before I knew it, we were on the lift headed up the mountain. That ride up the mountain alone was a thrill. As a spectator down on the ground those lifts don’t seem to be going that fast. I don’t want to contradict Thotman too much, so I won’t detail how awkward and clumsy I was going down. So let’s just say, I sure made the ski patrol nervous. But by the time I got to the bottom, I was wishing we had more day left, and I was just a little bit more proficient on those skis. Yes, I had put skiing in the right category on my spaces list. It is an addiction just like the smoking, drinking and gambling. Now I’m wondering when I can get my next fix.
Thanksgiving is an exciting time of year for me. For one thing, I like to eat. It’s also when the weather seems to switch into the winter season, my favorite time of year. Even hot weather fans, like my Beautiful Wife, have to like the beauty of the first snows of the season. Along with the changing weather, and emerging holiday season, humanity in general seems to refresh with the theme of “Good will to all.”
As a child, I remember that my Grandparents, who lived up in Canada, celebrated Thanksgiving over a month before we did down in the USA. Now it is interesting to me how these traditions began. Our North American tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving certainly got its roots from the various European harvest festivals. The earlier timing of the Canadian Thanksgiving probably has something to do with the fact that in that more northern country, the harvest is earlier in the year than in the USA.
I wonder about my own family Thanksgiving traditions. How much of what we do to celebrate this holiday has been handed down from generation to generation? As I have studied my family history, I realize that much of what I do and say is in fact a tradition, sometimes unknowingly handed down from earlier generations. I have no written record of how my ancestors observed Thanksgiving, so I am only left with my imagination of what traditions were past down to me. But I see the pattern as I remember Thanksgiving as a child, as I think of how my Beautiful Wife and I celebrate it as a family, and now as I observe what my grown children think is important to perpetuate into their own families.
When I was little, I remember that Thanksgiving day started early like any other day. We had the farm chores to do like always, but on this day, we tried to have everything done early. Most of the day was spent being lazy around the house. This was one of the rare days when we would actually get out a board game, like monopoly. Yes, Monopoly was definitely one of our Thanksgiving Day traditions. Football games on TV was not a tradition at our house. If we weren’t entertained by playing games inside, we’d be outside playing in the snow. Sledding down a hill, or being pulled behind a tractor or some other vehicle in our large yard was ever popular. To this day, I have never gone snow skiing. That was just something the rich people did. That may change soon though.
After our wonderful dinner, we usually played both in doors and out until it was time to do chores again. I didn’t mind going out to work for a few hours after dinner. It was a good way to rework the appetite so I could go another round at that great dinner.
Other good memories include when we went to Colorado to my Aunt and Uncle’s place for Thanksgiving. I probably wouldn’t still remember that trip but our car lost the windshield defroster on our 500 mile ride home, and we had to take that winter ride with the windows rolled down.
For several years, our family participated in Thanksgiving services as a community. All the denominations participated as well as anyone else from the community who was willing. Music and prayers of Thanksgiving were offered. That was a good experience to do something like that with the whole community.
I think my favorite Thanksgiving memory is of when My Beautiful Wife and I were just starting to establish our own traditions. This was our first year as a married couple celebrating Thanksgiving. We lived on the family farm, about a quarter mile from my parent’s home. Because of her wonderful abilities as a cook, we offered to bake the pies for the extended family gathering at my parent’s home where our big feast would take place. I have lost track of how many different kinds of pies we made, but it was a lot. Banana Cream, Chocolate cream. Cherry, Apple (my favorite), Lemon Merguine (my other favorite), Pumpkin (my other, other favorite), were all on the list. I think we made about a dozen pies that year.
And then we had to transport all those pies down to my parent’s house. This shouldn’t have been a hard task, but it had been snowing and blowing that day. So the lane between our houses was drifted in. I’ll never forget seeing the look of disbelief at how much snow there was, on my Beautiful Wife’s face as she tried to struggled to wade through all the snow that hadn’t been there only hours earlier. It was quite a change for this Southern California girl who was now wondering what she had gotten herself into. All turned out well as we arrived safely and then enjoyed the Thanksgiving dinner Haroldsen style.
Well, today Thanksgiving dinner is even more stylish as my Beautiful Wife has brought her best family traditions to join with my best family traditions, and we have created our own unique brand of Thanksgiving at the Haroldsens. There is still no football at our house, but the food is better than ever, with her brined turkey, homemade dinner rolls to die for, potatoes and gravy, salads, and vegetables fixed for a king. And of course for desert there will be at least a half a dozen different kinds of pie, including my favorite, my other favorite, and my other, other favorite.
It’s a rare thing for me to be home alone. It always has been. I grew up in a large family. I was a middle child, and my mom’s work was always at home. So someone was always at home. The same is true in my own home now, we have a large family of our own, my Beautiful Wife did all of her work at home until last spring, and so there is always someone at home when I am there. Until last night that is…
I almost already feel like an empty nester with only six of our children still living at home. But then yesterday, my Beautiful Wife took our five youngest children with her for an over night stay in Provo. That would leave only me and my teenaged son left at home. Well, teenaged son couldn’t see the sense in sitting at home with only the old man to entertain him, so he wanted to go spend the night with one of his friends (I could see a late into the night Halo computer game coming on). So that left just me in this big house for the night.
It was a very hard day of work, I was late leaving work, and I just wasn’t up to doing much when I got home to the quiet house. I found some leftovers for my dinner and turned on the TV so there would be noise in the house. The noise helped make it feel like home to me. I was too weary to be productive at anything, so I didn’t fight the drowses.
The next thing I knew, it was 12:30am, everything was dark and quiet (except the wind outside was howling). I got up to go get ready for bed. Dumb, huh? I probably should have just slept in my clothes and left my bed made. Because when I actually went to bed, I just lay there awake. Not surprising, since I had just finished a four hour nap.
So then as I lay there staring out in the darkness, and listening to the wind and rain pound the outside of our house, my mind wondered to my 2 greats grandfather, Jock Smith, to my great grandfather Christian Haroldsen, and to my grandfather, George Haroldsen. I thought of all the years they lived alone.
Jock’s life with Catherine ended when she died while they still had small children living at home. We don’t have any details, or even the exact year she died, but it was somewhere around 1862. That would have been when Jock was only about 44 years old. He lived another 30 years. Undoubtedly, many of these years were spent home alone. The nights must have been long, as he thought of his beloved Catherine… of his children who were now out on there own, raising their own families. I’m sure as the winds and rains of a night time storm beat against his small farm house in Hooper, Utah, his mind replayed the storms of his life… the real storms. Twelve children born but only four lived to grow up… the hard life of a Scottish coal miner… and then later the hard life of a Mormon pioneer… losing his own beloved wife, years before her time… then the many injustices from his fellow neighbors… fellow Mormons… his farm was stolen by a neighbor, a claim jumper who could read the notices of the homestead act. Jock couldn’t read it. In the end all he could do was to take his animals and tools and find a new place to start a farm again. That’s why he lived in Hooper now instead of Riverdale. During these long stormy nights, in his old age, he must have lay there and replayed the bitter memories of his life. I hope with the rising sun, the sweet memories of life warmed his thoughts.
Christian lived alone for many years. Drinking ruined his family life. He lived alone from about 1909 on. About 34 years of living alone. Much of this was spent many miles away from any family. He worked on large ranches up in Montana and in Canada. A glimpse of his loneliness is recorded in a letter to one of his sons. “I probably won’t have a place to call home until they dig a hole 6 feet in the ground.” In his later years, when he couldn’t work anymore, one of his sons built a small shed in back of his own home, where Christian could still have his independence, yet the close care of family. I have looked at this shed, now turned into a tool shed for the present generation. And I have wondered, what were Christian’s thoughts in his old age? Did he think of this as a place of his own? Or did he still think of that 6 foot hole in the ground as the only place he could call home?
I remember many small details of my Grandpa Haroldsen’s home. George lost his dear Catherine very suddenly. They had grown old together and then suddenly she was gone.
Though they were never used, all the grown children’s bedrooms were still made up and ready to live in. As grandchildren, we loved to play up stairs in those bedrooms. I remember that those beds were bouncier than my own bed. An old fashioned sewing machine was fun to operate by turning the foot peddle. It was very hot in the upstairs in the summertime, and cold in the winter.
After Grandma had died, I remember going with my dad to visit Grandpa. The large house was always dark, except for a reading lamp or some other light where Grandpa had been spending his time. Heat radiated out of his coal stove but no where else in the house. He dressed warm, flannel shirts and such, and then he just seemed to be comfortable in the cold house. I’d do that too if I lived alone.
It took me over an hour to drift back to sleep. That was good thinking time for me. I thought a lot about these three grandfathers of mine. I loved the glimpse into a part of their lives that no one (including themselves) ever really wrote about. Most of my thoughts were on my grandpa (George), because I knew him personally. I thought of those last six years of his life, after his wife died. I wondered of the thoughts in his head… of his memories. He would have remembered when wiring a house for electricity was cutting edge technology. Back then a small dim light in the main room of the house was all that was offered. He knew the time before cars… before airplanes… and radios. I remember that he listened to his new transistor radio when I was a small boy visiting. His tube radio was still there, but this tiny (about the size of today’s desktop computer) radio sounded much better. Grandpa scoffed at those who were putting the new tv antennas up on their roof tops. His black and white tv had rabbit ears with tinfoil wrapped around them… I suppose to try to get the snowy picture to come through. Jackie Gleason… and that news man who said, “And that’s the way it is.” Those are faint memories of visits to Grandpa’s house.
Grandpa must have spent a lot of that thinking time, marveling at how much the world had changed from his boyhood memories of the 1890’s to putting the man on the moon and watching it happen on his “snowy” tv. I wonder if I’ll spend the ending years of my life living alone. Probably not, my Beautiful Wife is already hard to keep up with. But if I do, what will I think about in those lonely hours of home alone? Will I like my thoughts? Will I marvel at how much the world has changed in my lifetime? Will I like the changes? I wondered about these things last night while I was home alone.
During my high school years, I tried to mix a little extra curricular with my academics and home/farm responsibilities. Along with my involvement with the musical department (choirs, musicals, and a little pep band), I tried my hand at wrestling. My wrestling career lasted about two and one-fourth years.
During this time, I watched a steady stream of fellow wrestlers who for one reason or another decided to throw in the towel. The pattern was always the same. When our coach heard the news, he would take that wrestler into his office and close the door. Thirty minutes to an hour later, the wrestler would emerge with the coach’s arm around him, giving him some final words of encouragement. Usually the wrestler remained on the team and all would be well.
I knew that my abilities as a wrestler wouldn’t merit this same treatment when I finally decided that wrestling wasn’t as important to me as doing my fair share back home on the farm. But as I slowly came to this decision, I didn’t say anything to any one about quitting. I only said that I was needed at home on the farm for a few days. Two days later, after I was sure that I would drop the wrestling, I went into the wrestler’s locker area to get my things and to tell the coach my news.
Most of the wrestlers were already upstairs in the wrestling practice room when I arrived. The first thing that hit me was that the contents of my locker were on the floor in the corner. As I looked closer, I could see that my locker had a different lock on the door. As I stood and stared, and tried to figure out what happened, our manager (a fellow student) filled me in.
“That locker has been reassigned. Since you were gone for two days, we figured that you quit.”
There have been a few times in my life since, which I have thought about that experience and the lessons it has taught me. The coach wasn’t interested in the young men on the team. He was only interested in who could give him the most wins. I knew at the time I was no great loss to the team. But I will always remember the tactless way they sent that message to me. The image of my wrestling clothes strewn on the floor is still bright.
So here I am at a point in my life when I can relate to that high school wrestling experience. My work has become like my wrestling experience. The long days at work leave me many long hours to wonder, “Where is the support from Corporate? Why are the corporate lawyers so slow to respond to our requests? And when they do respond, why do they only tells us what we CAN’T do to solve our labor problems, and never tells us anything we CAN do?
Sunday evening we were still struggling to finish a very long miserable weekend of processing. My crew was overworked and tired. Some were sick but trying to tuff it out, because we needed the help so badly. After sending one more person home, who had worked far too long and hard on that weekend, I had to slow down the production line and shut down part of the machine. We simply didn’t have the personnel to run the whole plant. This was demoralizing to the rest of the crew. It meant the workday/night would go even later. I couldn’t do more. Tomorrow would only be more of the same. Finally something snapped.
I stopped the production line and went in to make some calls. Of course being a Sunday evening, I couldn’t talk to anything except a voice mail. My message on that voice mail was loud and clear. “I NEED HELP OUT HERE, NOW!!!”
It’s now five days later. I have visited at length with three of my bosses, including two corporate officials who flew out here from back East. Today I will get another manager, on loan from another location, for almost two weeks to help with the work load. We are still talking about what those corporate lawyers will let us do to remedy our labor shortage. (At least those lawyers are really good at talking.) I hope some good will come of all of this feather ruffling (That’s a pun if you know the business I’m in.)
But I have also had some very frank conversations about whether I want to stay and work for this company. My salary and work hours have been discussed, and are still being discussed in the corporate circles. It has been a very S-T-R-E-S-S-F-U-L week for me.
So this morning, as I approached the processing plant, I thought of my wrestling days back in high school. And I wondered if I would see my personal things from my office dumped out on the side of the street. As I approached the door, my key in hand, I wondered if it would work, or if corporate had changed the locks. There was no one out there to tell me “We figured you quit.” So I came on in to work as usual.
Today I have met the same problems, and performed the same duties. Everything seems to be business as usual. We are still running the plant with an inadequate crew. And corporate is apparently still talking about what they will do to help us.
But they have said nothing to me personally yet. They still have me wondering, what is my worth to them? Do they think of me as a trader for asking for more money for my crew? Are they busy finding someone to take my place? I will be here again this weekend. (At least unless I come in tomorrow morning and find that my office was cleaned out during the night.) But I will be wondering now, until they get back to me on our negotiations from earlier in the week, what is my value to this company? Will they take me into “the coach’s office” and give me a pep talk and make an offer I can’t refuse? I half expect to see a new lock on the door instead. WHAT IS MY REAL VALUE? I’m not sure I want to know.