Author: Vivian Cumins
One of my favorite winter attractions is the magical Ice Castles that come alive every January in the small, Swiss-themed town of Midway, Utah. Built on an acre of land, Ice Castles attracts thousands of curious visitors, all looking to unleash child-like imagination and get lost in a whirlwind of fantasy.
Ice Castles are constructed from hundreds of thousands of hand-placed icicles, ice blocks and frozen walls. Inside, custom caves, walkways, tunnels, mazes, and slides encourage hours of icy play and exploration. At night, colorful lights, synchronized to music from Disney’s Frozen, bounce off the glistening interior and add to the enchanting experience. Without fail, every visit to this winter wonderland takes me back to my childhood. Long before Ice Castles rose to fame in 2011, my sister, Vicki, and I were celebrities in our hometown of Chickasha for building our own icy fortress.
According to weather records, Oklahoma averages a measly two inches of snowfall a year. Winter precipitation, if any, typically shows up in the form of freezing rain, but in January 1977, Chickasha residents woke up to a lot of both.
“I hope they cancel school,” Vicki said while our mom placed our radio on the kitchen table and fiddled with the tuner knob. We didn’t have email or text messaging back then; the quickest way to get local news and learn of school closings was to tune into the KWCO-KXXK radio show. I agreed with my big sister; playing in the snow was far better than going to school.
The man in the radio read through the list of school closings in alphabetical order, however, he had already passed the “Cs” by the time we tuned in. Disappointed, Vicki and I had to wait for the next commercial break to hear if “Chickasha Public Schools” made the list. Our mom went about her morning routine of preparing cups of hot tea, cold milk, and buttery toast. We still needed to eat our breakfast and get ready for school, she told us, just in case.
As I munched on strawberry jelly toast, I got lost in the busy wallpaper staring back at me. It didn’t match our brownish-gold kitchen carpet or aluminum table with floral-padded chairs. Instead, it portrayed a colorful pattern of coffee pots, cups, and muffins. I thought the muffins were funny and took pleasure in seeing how many of them I could count. At age five, I was still learning big numbers, so my ability to get very far, numerically, was limited.
“Here we go!” Vicki said, turning up the volume. Suddenly, I snapped out of my wallpaper trance and joined my sister in leaning towards the radio as if our hoovering bodies would somehow affect the announcement. One-by-one, the radio man recited school closures – again in alphabetical order. Finally, he said it: “Chickasha Public Schools are closed today.”
Hallelujah! Vicki and I wasted no time putting on our coat, hat, boots, and mittens. Even our mom bundled up to join us, though her mission was to de-ice the driveway, steps, and sidewalk.
I don’t remember who came up with the idea to build the fort, but it seemed like the appropriate thing to do with the growing collection of excavated ice chunks. Using a shovel, our mom chipped away at the slippery surfaces while Vicki and I hauled the two-inch ice blocks to the front yard.
One-by-one, we stacked the chunks on top of each other. When I could no longer reach the top, I handed the blocks to Vicki, who used her tippy toes until our fort reached an astounding six feet. With little daylight left, I quickly formed a snowman and rolled his body center stage so he could stand guard and protect our fort from evening intruders.
As days passed and temperatures rose, our lovely masterpiece and snowman started to melt. It was sad to watch them slowly dissipate after so much work – in a matter of days, our fort and snowman would be gone forever – or would they?
We had a neighbor who worked for the newspaper. He drove by our house every day on his way to work. Unbeknownst to us, he snapped a picture of our fort the morning it was built. What a surprise it was to see our fort among the top stories in the Sunday newspaper!
The caption read: ICE FORT, followed by a cute introduction to our kitty, Snowflakes, whose timing was perfect; she was a great photo-bomber. Our mom cut out the photo and story and placed it on the refrigerator. Our hard work, innovation, and creativity had been showcased to the entire town – it was a proud moment for our family.
What’s even better than memories are the old photographs that accompany them. Below is the newspaper clipping featuring our ice fort – after all these years, it still stands.
ICE FORT – This cat stands guard at an ice fortress in the 100 block of Virginia. With all the ice storms, thaws and more ice, it was easy to chip these blocks and pile them up for the brick style fort. A lone snowman stands sentry duty inside the half circle. Chickasha Daily Express, 1977