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Winter wonders.

About a month ago, I heard a person at work say how wintertime in northeast Mississippi depresses her. She's from Hattiesburg, further south, where there's a significant amount of greenery all year long.

"There's a dismal gray from the sky that blends into tire tree line, all the way to the grass in winter," she said. "When I moved up here, I had to get used to that. It's downright depressing."

And it's true, I suppose, that winter days can have an effect on our moods, preventing us from being as perky as when sunny days beckon us to experience a heightened sense of well-being. However, cold, gray days in northeast Mississippi aren't all bad--at least they aren't for me.

I spent some of my happiest days as a child growing up here inside the house under card table tents, pretending that I was camping out in the great outdoors. Once, my cousin Dennis and I constructed a multi-room tent that could have easily accommodated a small family.

I liked to read Highlights for Children, Hardy Boys mysteries, and an occasional science fiction where humans had colonized Mars. Books and magazines and leftover legs of cold fried chicken from Sunday's lunch became my friends under the card table tents.

A few years later, I picked up a paint brush and began to dabble with oils and watercolors. My art teacher, Fran Land, told me about ion Gnagy, a how-to television artist, whom I watched religiously every Saturday morning on WCBI-TV in Columbus. Since many of his art lessons involved bare trees and winter scenes, I had ample opportunities to practice painting my winter surroundings.

Of all the enjoyable things that I associate with winter as a younger person, probably the most exciting was waiting for the early-morning announcements that school would be canceled due to ice or snow. It didn't happen often, but when it did, there was an almost audible collective whoop and holler from students all over the city and county.

"You'll have to eat a sandwich for lunch," my mother would say as she headed out the door for work. Using the electric range stove was outlawed if I were home alone.

"No problem with that," I would say. Food was not an issue. I had the day out of school! I could climb back into my warm cocoon of bedcovers and stay until 10 o'clock if I so chose. It was great.

Another positive aspect of wintertime in Mississippi was the cold-weather foods that were in abundant supply no matter where I went. Thick, meaty stews and soups with carrots, potatoes, and chunks of chicken and ham. Hot cocoa with marshmallows, so hot that it would burn the top layer of skin off of the roof of my mouth.

"Want some Tabasco?" my dad would ask as he dished tip some of his homemade chili into soup bowls.

"Sure," I'd say, trying to prove my manliness by dowsing my bowl of chili with at least a tablespoon of the hot, salty, red concoction.

After my first bite, Dad would slide a sleeve of Premium saltines my way. "This'll help," he'd say.

"You two are crazy," my mother would chime.

Back then, in the '60s, it was safe for folks to walk anywhere they wanted at any time of the day or night. My friends and I would walk to Hardin's Bakery at midnight on Saturday night to purchase a couple dozen of their fresh, hot doughnuts, covered with a warm shiny glaze of melted sugar and butter. Mr. Clark would sell us the heavenly delicacies at the back entrance for 49 cents a dozen, tossing in a few free doughnut holes.

"Y'all be careful walking back home," he'd say. "See ya next Saturday."

Those doughnuts would rarely make it home We'd eat most of them as we passed around a quart container of Borden's chocolate milk that we had bought before the little green store closed much earlier in the evening.

Since I've grown up, the winter gray hardly ever depresses me. I want to believe that my pleasant childhood experiences have "padded" my memories, preventing me from having feelings of depression or sadness during the cold season of low light.

When I see Cheryl at work next week, perhaps I'll share some stories with her about my childhood winters in northeast Mississippi and invite her out for some hot cocoa. Maybe that will make her smile.
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Title Annotation:On Being Southern
Author:Dorroh, John
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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