The Original Ice Castle

Ice Castle

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 General Electric 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 and listened to Paul Simon sing “50 Ways to Leave your Lover”, 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?

I don’t remember his name, but we had a neighbor who worked for the Chickasha Daily Express (now known as the Express-Star) newspaper. He drove by our house on Virginia Avenue every day on his way to work. Unbeknownst to us, he snapped a picture of our fort the morning after it was built. What a surprise it was to us 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 little family.

What’s even better than memories are the old photographs that accompany them. Below is the newspaper clipping featuring our ice fort; forty-five years later, it still stands.

Share in the comments below of a time when you built a fort. Was it inside or outside? What materials did you use? Never built a fort? Well, it’s not too late! Build one today and post a picture in the MemoryBlogger Forum!

Original Ice Castle

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


Backseat Vacations

Vintage Car Steering Wheel and Dashboard

My family never took exotic summer vacations when I was growing up. There were no trips to the beach or weeklong voyages to Disneyland. We never boarded an airplane or stayed in a hotel. Instead, we road-tripped to Iowa, the land of endless cornfields, grain bins, and silos—and home to Melvin and Opal Schmidt, a.k.a. Grandma and Grandpa. I loved going to Grandma’s house, but even more, I loved the journey to Grandma’s house. For my parents and older sister, Vicki, our vacation started once we reached our destination. For me, vacation began in the backseat.

Made it to Grandma's House (Family Vacay, Iowa, 1977)
Made it to Grandma’s house (family vacation, Iowa, 1977)

Backseat vacations meant my mom would take me to TG&Y to pick out a few boredom busters for the trip. I would thoroughly examine the shelves stocked with toys, books, and trinkets and then selectively choose either a deck of Old Maid cards or an activity book. I loved activity books! They were full of coloring pages, connect-the-dots, and word-find puzzles. Sometimes I talked my mom into buying me a new box of crayons, too. As I got older, my mom still took me to the store prior to our trip, but my choices evolved over time. Instead of activity books and crayons, I chose TigerBeat magazines filled with pictures of teen heartthrobs such as Scott Baio and Shaun Cassidy.

The night before our nine-hour journey, I watched my dad map out our trip with the help of his oversized Atlas. For those of you unfamiliar with an Atlas, it is a book of printed maps that lists every highway, byway, road, and street within the United States. There was no such thing as GPS back then—the Atlas was our GPS. And my dad was a professional at reading them.

While my dad figured out the logistics, my mom prepared lunches and snacks for our mobile picnic. The main course included three types of sandwiches: peanut butter, ham, and bologna with mustard—all on white Wonder bread. Paired with the sandwiches was a large bag of Ruffles potato chips. For snacks, she stocked up on pretzels, crackers, and cookies. Drinks were a variety of Shasta pop—I always called dibs on the root beer. Mom neatly wrapped each pop can in aluminum foil before placing in the cooler. She said the foil kept them colder longer.

The backseat belonged exclusively to Vicki and me; it was our domain. Shoe removal, though not mandatory, was the first order of business, followed by pillow placement. The left side belonged to Vicki, and the right belonged to me. The space between us was reserved for our store-bought activities, which we would get to later—the first few hours were spent giggling and playing “Slug-bug,” “Rock-Paper-Scissors,” and “I-Spy.”

Naps ultimately followed, and, luckily for us, the backseat was long enough for Vicki and me to stretch out. Since seatbelts were simply a suggestion back then, my dad shoved the buckles into the seat cracks so they wouldn’t poke us while we slept. The humming sound of tires rolling down the highway lulled me to sleep in a matter of seconds. I slept like a rock in the backseat. I recall times when my mom had to shake me awake for a bathroom break.

Pitstops took place at either the Sinclair or Texaco gas station. As a little girl, I didn’t like the Sinclair station because it had a big, green brontosaurus statue out front. I knew the dinosaur wasn’t real, but it freaked me out. I still don’t like the Sinclair dinosaur.

Except for gas stops, my dad always drove straight through, which made my fidgety body uncomfortable. I loved backseat vacations, but leg stretches were few, and that made me cranky. Whiny inquiries of whether we were there yet would begin to invade the car after approximately seven hours. The whiny inquires came from me. My mom’s responses were always “no”—until fields of corn stalks came into full view. Only then would she tell us to put our shoes on. We were almost there!

From the front porch, Grandma and Grandpa waved as we pulled into the drive. Big hugs and lipstick kisses smothered us before they escorted us inside, where Grandma’s delicious food was waiting for us at the kitchen table. Before going in, I would take one look back at the car. My backseat vacation was officially over, but I wasn’t sad. I would get to go on another in two weeks when we headed back home.


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