The current controversy over the 1944 Christmas classic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” reminds me of a time many years ago when a snowstorm blew into Port William, and my brother and I were snowed-in at home with my mom.
My parents were firm believers in family chores, and my brother, Kevin, and I were the only siblings left at home, so we were assigned essential jobs around the house.
Kevin had to make the beds, and I was stuck with two chores I disliked immensely. Every night, rain or shine, I had to carry two large coal buckets outside to our small coalhouse and load the supply of coal for the night’s fire.
Although the coalhouse was located within 60 feet of the house, and I could have thrown a baseball and hit it, the slog seemed like a long walk to me simply because it was one I didn’t want to make.
Every month or so a big dump truck loaded with coal stopped in the alley and a man in coal-stained bib overalls — Oshkosh B’Gosh, if I recall — would pick up a scoop shovel and begin throwing the coal through a little square door on the back of the coalhouse.
I was still in grade school when I stood on the back porch and watched the muscular deliveryman throw scoop after scoop into the little building. The man was always pleasant and would talk to me after he hopped out of his truck to begin shoveling coal.
“I sure hope there are no rats in there,” he would say to me every time he arrived to deliver coal, pointing to the coalhouse.
He might as well have said, “I hope there are no rattlesnakes in there.” I hated rats.
Needless to say, the man’s comments about rats would rattle around in my mind every night about five o’clock when I headed to the coalhouse. It was an unpleasant chore, but as they say, someone had to do it.
The other assigned chore I disliked was washing and drying the dishes after supper. Washing dishes at the Haley residence was not gathering four plates and silverware and placing them in a dishwasher. We didn’t have a dishwasher.
I was the dishwasher!
I had to take two large tin tubs, fill one with soap, and the other with clear water, and place them on the burners of our old gas stove, and warm them just short of a boil.
“Mom, this water is too hot,” I would say almost every night.
“You will be fine, Pat. Your hands will get used to the water,” Mom gently replied.
One evening it began to snow heavily, and my brother and I were stranded at home in the deepening snow. We stood and watched the snow fall past the window.
School had been cancelled, which seldom happened when we were students in elementary school. If you could walk, you went to school, was the accepted philosophy of the day. “Snow days” had a different meaning back then.
I had just finished doing the dishes, and my mom casually asked if I had loaded the coal yet.
“But, mom, it’s cold outside,” I said. “My hands are just like ice.”
“We want to be nice and warm,” she said.
“I really can’t go, I need to finish the dishes,” I said.
“Look out the window at the storm,” Mom replied.
“Dad will start to worry if I don’t finish the dishes. He will pace the floor,” I said.
“He will love to hear the coal stove roar,” she said.
“May I get a drink of cocoa before I go outside?” I asked.
“Sure. I will put some records on while I pour,” she said.
“I don’t want to wear that old toboggan,” I said.
“I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell,” she said.
“But, mom. I’ll freeze out there,” I explained. “How can you do this thing to me? It’s up to my knees out there.”
Just as I finished my sentence, the front door opened. It was my dad.
Here was a man who had been up since five o’clock in the morning, worked in a factory all day, and came home hungry. Needless to say, I figured it would be prudent at that point to load the coal.
“Did you have a nice day,” my mom asked my dad sweetly.
“Ellen, it’s cold outside,” he replied with a smile.
If he only knew, I thought to myself, as I picked up the coal buckets, buckled my galoshes, and headed out the back door.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County commissioner and former Clinton County sheriff.