I spent my childhood in a small city in northern China dozens of years ago.
The winter there was very cold but full of fun. In my memory, there wasn’t much snow – two or three times each year and only a thin layer each time. Whenever it snowed, people, especially kids like me, would sweep the courtyard with a broom. After the small area in front of home had been cleaned, we would start sweeping the alley. Of course, we did not clear the whole alley but just a small, narrow pathway which allowed at least one person to walk through. It was for the convenience of whoever had to go out for work or something else.
It was one of the rare times when almost all the people who lived in the alley came out at the same time and did something together. Adults would say hi or wave to each other and exchange greetings and other words. In the pleasant atmosphere, kids got excited. We ran around chasing one another, throwing snow at any one we came across. The whole ally was full of the noise of happy voices, especially of the kids.
Another great fun was ice on the window glass. Every morning when I woke up, there it would be in beautiful patterns which varied every day. My brother and I loved those morning moments. We imagined what the patterns were like and made stories about them.
I would say, “This is my corn field. A small rabbit here is looking for the biggest, sweetest corn.” My brother would disagree, “Oh, no. That’s my little dog looking for a friend there.” Or me, “The fairy girl is flying in the sky.” But him, “Look at this biggest peach in my tree!”
At that time, people lived a very simple life and did not have any plants inside the house. My mom, when she cut vegetables, would put the root end of a bakchoi (Chinese cabbage) or a radish in a small plate with some water. In a couple of days, it would sprout small leaves then, in most cases, bloom; and its small yellow flowers really brightened up the home in the gloomy winter.
Even a power outage could be a happy time. My mom would light a candle, put it on a table beside the stove, bring over some potatoes and start roasting them. Then came stories, jokes, games and laughter in the midst of the appetizing aroma filling the room. Until mom laid the table.
Oh, the flavor, the light, the voices, the warmth! How many winter nights of mine later on in my life have been brightened by these comforting memories!
Such was my unforgettable childhood during winter. Innocent, good fun!