Childhood Winter Memories

Childhood Winter Memories

By Roger Heid

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It was just about two weeks before Christmas, in the early 50s, perhaps in 1951, I think. My Mom and I had just moved to her relatives in a rural area in Southwest Germany.  My step dad, a US Army officer, had been assigned to Korea, from where he would eventually never return.

The night before, it had snowed an awful lot, like too much, according to the adults in the family. This was in hilly country, in a small rural village, about 50 miles east of Stuttgart. As far as I can remember, this was on a cold Sunday morning. During breakfast, the adults were talking a lot about a passenger train having been stuck in the snow for hours, just a couple of miles south of town.

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Grandma looked at the three of us kids very pensively. Then she whispered to us that she had heard that Santa was on this train. Grandma was a wise old owl, she would certainly know. I don’t think I need to stress the fact that this news immediately caught our attention. We, the three of us, six and seven years old, had to go there, if at all possible, to check this out. No bars holding!

A family member, a boy in his late teens, declared he would take us to the scene. We quickly muffed up in our winter clothes, standing by, waiting for his instructions. Atta boy he was, really! We had to wait a bit, though, as it was his turn to do the dishes.

He started to take us further down the street where the butcher and the baker had their stores, right next to each other. Normally, it would take five to seven minutes to walk that distance. Today it took almost 20 minutes. In some spots, the snow was so deep I needed to be carried by the older boy, for some short distances. That’s how bad it was, in adult terms. I didn’t mind, of course. Altogether, this much snow was new to me, a truly enjoyable adventure.

Once there, we saw a fairly large freight sled with two horses harnessed in front of it. There already were sacks of coal and water canisters loaded on it. A number of folks were busy loading bags filled with sandwiches, hot chocolate and coffee on that sled. I remember carrying a few paper sacks full of goodies to the sled, myself.

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But, how would these two horses be able to pull this sled to where the train was, I wondered. Those poor horses would get stuck in the snow, up to their bellies. Well, it was explained to us that a farmer, who had a tractor with very large wheels and a snow plow, had cleared a passable path to the train the horses would be able to negotiate. Well, all four of us piled on the sled.

In due time, we reached the train. That was a pathetic sight.  Yup! It was stuck. No doubt. I had never seen so much snow in one heap, not before, not after. There were a few men trying to do the impossible.

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Here I have to inject some information. During those days, in some ways, the US Army still controlled the land. We kids knew about this, not understanding all of it, though. But we understood that everybody was waiting for the US Army Engineer Corps to come from the North, with their powerful equipment, to get this train going.  That meant there would be a bunch of GIs! Possibly, I might know some of them. Maybe we would wind up with some chewing gum, John Wayne Bars and other delicacies. Yummy! I could only hope.

They did arrive, in fact, some two hours, or so, later. As a result of their concerted efforts, the train was moving again. Apparently, it was no big deal for them. They hardly spent any time on the scene. They disappeared as fast as they arrived. No chewing gum! Oh well! Maybe some other time.

I remember that, during the waiting period, a few of the strong men loaded the coal and water into the engine. I now understand that this was necessary to keep the engine under steam and to keep the steam heaters in the passenger cars hot.

I also remember me delivering sandwiches and beverages to some of the passengers. Among them was an elderly white-haired man with a beard. He gave me a very friendly smile.  I was way too busy delivering the goodies in order to pay much attention to this particular person. When I walked away from him I felt something tugging my coat. I turned around to see who that might have been. There was no one behind me. The old man was looking out the window.

On the way home, riding on the sled, I found some candy, cookies, an orange, some walnuts and a bar of chocolate in an outside pocket of my winter coat.

To this very day, I still wonder. Grandma must have been right. Who knows? But, I think I do know.

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Yup, I knew he would be coming to town. Every year, he does, don’t you know?

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