Mom taught me: "Beware when it’s 31 degrees!" Through the years I’ve observed that, weather-wise, just about anything bad can happen when the temperature is 31 degrees. I wasn’t aware of this when I was a child, but in winter 1923, when I was 9 years old, a snowstorm came in like a lamb and stayed almost forever. First there was a beautiful, deep snowfall, and children were out on their sleds in the streets. There being no Parks and Recreation Department in 1923, the Columbia Police Department closed East Walnut Street from North William Street to Moss Street, which disappeared after Highway 63 was built.
It didn’t take long for the word to get from family to family, and the area was soon filled with sleds, children and parents. Some slid on cardboard boxes, washing-machine lids or other makeshift sleds. Cars made deep ruts in the snow all over town. On the farm, animals hovered in the loafing sheds, bedding down on the straw there. It was a beautiful time - Mid-Missouri was a living Christmas postcard, and it wasn’t terribly cold.
Quietly, without warning, the temperature went to 31 degrees, and gentle rain put a heavy coat of ice on top of the snow. Then it got cold! Only children were happy about this. Dad, who wore tall rubber boots every day, put on extra wool socks and had trouble walking on the ice. Cows slipped and slid, too, because the heavy crust of ice over the snow supported their weight. The temperature stayed below freezing for days even in sunshine and with little wind.
Out came the ice skates, and children and adults skated on lawns and pastures on the unusual ice. Dad sharpened some hand-me-down skates for my brother Jim, who was 12 years old. They were adjustable, clamp-on skates and could be made to fit different shoe sizes, but only if the shoes had leather soles and leather heels. No skates could clamp on my small shoes, but I was having fun on my sled. We’d never heard of shoe skates in 1923. And people said there had never been this kind of skating - on ice-covered snow.
Tillman Sevier and Joe Garity, the hired men who lived with us because neither had family, took turns wearing some old clamp-on Keen Kutters that must have been Dad’s when he was young. Our house was on a hill, and I could start with a run, go down on the sled and go down past the milk house and the barn. The skaters leapt over the drainage ditch, skated up a short hill and began again. I couldn’t cross the ditch on the sled. I turned and pulled the sled back, and the skaters flew by and skated on up the hill by the house.
Joe, a city guy who needed work when Dad needed another man, went to town on the milk truck on Saturday and came home with a beautiful pair of skates from Hays’ Hardware - for me! Leather behind my heels supported my ankles, and a strap that buckled across the ankle kept them in place. The front "toe grippers" adjusted with a skate key, which I tied to a shoestring and proudly wore around my neck. Good ol’ Joe! We were glad he was part of our family. We’ve had other ice storms, but never another like that!