Winters of My Childhood (Winter Memories Hub Page Challenge)
Winter Memories Challenge
Fellow hubber Jackie Lynnley originally issued the "Winter Memories Hub Page Challenge" approximately three years ago. It was recently reissued with Christmas 2014 approaching and, although I couldn't really think of one particular Winter memory that stood out from the rest, I decided to meet the challenge with an essay about my childhood memories of Winter.
Winters of My Childhood
Isn't it funny how anytime we we are asked to write about memories past we almost always recall events that happened in our childhood? Even if we are in our 50s, 60s, 70s or later years our fondest and most vivid memories are still from our early days of childhoods filled with innocence and wonder.
When first becoming aware of this challenge I wasn't intending to 'throw my hat into the ring' so to speak because I couldn't think of one particular winter that was more special than any other. I realise that in the Northern hemisphere with Thanksgiving just passed and Christmas approaching, for many, there is also the prospect of snowmen, sledding, ice skating and other 'White Christmas" fun. Here in Australia however, we are already sweltering with record Summer temperatures (and at present most welcome rain) so thoughts of winter are not at the forefront of an Australian's thinking around Christmas.
That being said I sat down and thought, "Why not? I am always up for a challenge".. and Jackie did ask me so nicely to participate.. how could I refuse? I started to try recalling any specific memories related to winter and was quite surprised with the nostalgia that began to surface. Most of the memories related to visiting my grandmother and uncle during my childhood, hence I will use that experience for my narrative.
Kingaroy has a humid subtropical climate with warm to hot summers and cool winters. Daily maximum temperatures range from 30 °C (86 °F) in summer to 18 °C (64 °F) in winter. The highest temperature ever recorded in Kingaroy was 41.0 °C (105.8 °F) in January 1994 and again in January 2014, while the coldest was -6.7 °C (19.9 °F) in July 1961. Due to its elevation, Kingaroy often records some of the coldest temperatures in Queensland during winter, dropping below freezing an average of 14.3 times per year. Sleet has been recorded on more than one occasion in the town, and light snow fell in July 1959.
A Town Called Kingaroy
A few times a year my family would pack the car and take the two hour journey, from first Maleny and later Woodford, to visit my maternal grandmother and uncle (my mother's eldest brother). We went there every Christmas that I can remember while my grandmother was alive, but as well as this we always visited for the May Day/Labour Day long weekend during winter.
'Nannan' and 'Uncle Bill' lived in a rural town in the South Burnett region of Queensland called Kingaroy 'The Peanut Capital' of Australia. It also has the distinction of being one of southern Queensland's hottest towns during Summer and coldest in Winter. I much preferred visiting in the Winter months.
Breakfast at Nannan's
Kingaroy experienced a snowfall in 1959 but I was only two years old and too young to remember if we were there in the winter of that year. What I do remember most about the cold winter days spent at my Grandmother's(Nannan's) house however was the wood combustion stove in the kitchen.
My Uncle Bill would rise every morning at 5.00am to light the stove so that the kitchen would be warm and inviting by the time everyone else rose for breakfast. Nannan would be up too preparing a large pot of delicious and warming chicken and barley soup.
As soon as the rest of us rose and made our way to the cosy kitchen we begin cooking the bacon and eggs or whatever other delicacy may be on the breakfast menu.
Nannan had a very hard life having fled an abusive husband when my mother was a small child, and then raising three children on her own in days when such a thing was rarely one. You would never know because she was always laughing and joking. One of her favourite sayings, if I asked what was for breakfast or dinner was: "Oh, I didn't cook anything," she'd say with a smile, "If you are hungry you'll have to go up the country and eat a dead monkey."
Milking, Separating, and Churning
Uncle Bill had a milking cow and poultry so each morning, after breakfast, I would help him with the milking, collecting the eggs from the hens, and then the fun part, separating the cream from the milk. I loved putting the separating machine together. My uncle would test me to see if I could remember the order and correct placement of all the parts. By the time I was six years old I was able to assemble the separator on my own.
After the milk was separated we had to disassemble the machine and clean and sterilize all the parts. Then we would take the metal buckets of milk and cream up to the kitchen where everyone was offered a glass of warm milk before the rest was refrigerated. Nannan would take the cream, add a little salt, then place it in the churn and turn it into butter. Sometimes I would take a turn at this as well, turning the handle frantically until my arm felt like it was ready to drop off. The result was always worth it though, as the cream was transformed into the most delicious home made butter.
Following Uncle Bill
A great deal of my time in Kingaroy was spent tagging after my Uncle Bill, and helping him in his wonderful vegetable garden where he grew the biggest cabbages, lettuces, carrots and potatoes. If we weren't in the garden we would be in his shed/workshop. He was a windmill plumber by trade and could manufacture the most amazing things like his own knives, and axe and shovel handles. He once even made a boat/dinghy out of an old car (Vanguard) hood.
Uncle Bill sometimes took me fishing at the dam, and was the first person to teach me to shoot a rifle.
There is something else I should tell you about Uncle Bill. He was a World War II veteran and had suffered industrial deafness working around and driving heavy machinery. He had hearing aids but in those days they were quite unsophisticated and he hated to wear them because they buzzed in his ears. Strangely the only time he could really hear what you said without yelling was if there was a lot of other loud noise about.
This deafness also helped make him the most patient adult I had ever met. All kids loved to be around him, including my younger sister and brother, and then later my own children.
I'll never forget his funny sayings such as: "The bare footed boy with boots on, sat standing on the grass." He also had funny names for run of the mill items and animals. Kangaroos he called 'kangaroosters" and eggs were "cackleberries."
My Grandmother's Favourite Song
Winter Night's at Brownie's
My grandmother was an ex Cabaret singer and dancer popularly known as 'Brownie' her real name being Ethel Brown. She never lost her love of singing and dancing and most winter nights spent at her house would invariably involve these activities. Accompanied by the record player or radio/wireless we would take turns (sometimes willingly) accompanying Nannan as her partner in either the waltz, foxtrot or jive while she sung such songs as 'The Black Hills of Dakota', 'The Black Velvet Band' or 'Send Me the Pillow That You Dream On'.
She was well known in the Kingaroy community having spent most of her adult life in the town and having worked for many years at the peanut silos and as a cabaret performer. 'Brownie' was renowned for her generosity, inviting everyone into her home, including taking in a number of boarders who had trouble finding accommodation elsewhere. One lady named 'Nellie' actually stayed for over 20 years. To us she was part of the family.
We often shared dinner with people we had never met before. It was a wonderful lesson in humility and sharing, especially for my brother, sister and I.
Feelings of Nostalgia
Now, so many years have passed and I look back at those wonderful times spent with my grandmother and uncle with feelings of nostalgia. I am happy that my wife and children also got to experience these special occasions for a number of years and took away from it some of their own most precious memories. My eldest son especially often still says that winter spent at Nannan's was his favourite time of year.
Other Winter Memories
- Winter Memories/Hub Page Challenge
A simple day, reserved in my mind, as the greatest day of my youth. Life is funny this way.
© 2014 John Hansen