The following speech was delivered to the School during morning meeting on, Monday, December 5th, by math teacher and Winter Sports Director, William Farrell.
Winter arrived early in 1956 in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. A cold front had come down from Canada and by Thanksgiving Day, we were skating on Nash’s Mill Pond and then in the first week of December, a nor’easter had dumped over a foot of snow in my hometown.
In the weeks before the Christmas vacation, the skiing hill behind my house became the universe for me and all of my second-grade friends. During that previous summer, my dad and I had cleared that hill so that we could use it for sledding and skiing. Each day as I sat in the classroom, my attention span diminished as the dial of the clock approached 2:35... And when the closing bell rang my friends and I would scramble from the class and we’d run as fast as our legs would carry us to get on that hill behind my house.
One day after another big snowstorm, we decided that before packing down the hill with our skis, we would take some rides on our flying saucers. After a few runs, the snow became so fast that I shot out of the track and I slammed into one of the tree stumps that was left from the summer clearing. The pain I felt was unbearable. I watched helplessly as my left leg continued to move violently in uncontrollable spasms. My friends ran through the deep snow to get help.
Without understanding the severities of my injury, my father threw me over his shoulders, carried me off the hill, placed me in the back of our station wagon and drove me down to our small town hospital. The X-rays revealed that the impact had shattered my femur in two places. Back then it was considered too risky to operate on a young child to install a plate, so the doctor’s only option was to immobilize my leg in traction which would confine me to a hospital bed for over twelve weeks.
In one early winter afternoon, I was taken away from the fun of being a child, I was taken away from my friends, I was taken away from being able to play in the outdoors and it was now Christmas-time in New England with over two feet of snow on the ground. By January, I began to understand the concept of agony when I’d look out of my hospital window to see all of my friends across the road on the Beacon Field hill skiing every day after school.
The weeks of January went by slowly and painfully, and the snowstorms became more frequent. Being confined to a hospital bed, I suffered from severe bedsores and the simple acts of having my sheets changed and being assisted to go to the bathroom in a bedpan became humiliating and degrading. The hospital was stuffy, the air was stale and it always smelled like rubbing alcohol and nurses drinking coffee. I was just a young kid in the second grade and I was deprived of my friends, I was deprived of the joy of physical activity and I was being cheated out of a New England winter..
And then on one sub-zero day in early February, a television serviceman came to install an antenna on the hospital’s roof and the cable needed to be passed through my window. The nurses came in, they propped me up in my bed and wrapped me in some thick blankets. And when the window was opened, a wall of frigid air came rushing in and it formed a white vapor cloud that rolled over my bed and onto the floor.
The impact of that frigid air hitting my nostrils and filling my lungs was the most exhilarating and purifying experience I had ever known. And so I lunged for the window and begged the nurses to keep it open but they physically overpowered me and restrained me back into my bed. They told me that the window would have to be closed so that I wouldn’t catch cold.
Cold? What did they mean by cold? I was a little second-grade New England kid who always loved everything about winter and no one had ever told me that cold was a bad thing. To me, cold was when you and your best friends whitewashed each other at recess. To me cold was when you shared stories with your father while riding up the T bar. To me cold was always a time for celebration and joy.
When the nurses closed that window, they began to close my spirit…but then my spirit began to open that window .The day that window opened would forever influence my love and appreciation for cold weather and the outdoors. Through that winter and in that moment, I developed an acute awareness for just what was on the other side of that window.
When that window closed, I realized that my childhood and innocence was being stolen from me and I didn’t want to ever let it go. The spiritual uplift that came from that sudden blast of cold air made me make a vow to the Almighty that if I my leg healed and if I ever I got out of that hospital bed, that I would live in the outdoors for the rest of my life and I would never come in.
In late March, I finally did leave the hospital in a wheelchair. But by that time, winter was gone and the snow on our ski hill had melted. During the following summer my leg finally healed completely. And for the rest of my childhood, I lived on my home town rope tow every day after school from early December until late March. And whenever it snowed, my dad would cancel his appointments, load the old station wagon with our skis, pull me out of school and we’d head for Vermont. Each evening, my face would fall into my dinner plate from exhaustion and every winter day was the best day of my life.
While I was cheated out of the winter of 1956-57, the experience enhanced my love for the outdoors and my capacity to embrace the cold weather with a passion that has not waned over the last six decades. As we enter this very special time of year, the smell of cold air and the onset of the coming winter excites me as much now as they did when I was in that hospital bed fifty-five years ago. Those of you who have ever complained of the coming cold weather were never cheated out of a winter the way I was.
And as for that vow that I made with the Almighty…well he certainly kept up his end of the bargain…he gave me back my leg, he let me leave the hospital…but most importantly…he gave me back my childhood.
And for the next 55 years, I never wasted a single day of winter. I looked at each day of winter as if it could be my last. And whenever I’d enter a starting gate, I’d always remembered that I was given another shot at being in the outdoors. And so I’m going to end this story by personally reinforcing a request made last week by Mr. Bates.
While I’m an adult, please believe me when that whenever I say that I really want you to embrace the cold weather, and that I really would like you to participate in Snow sports and that I really want for you to like the outdoors … what you’re really hearing is the voice of a little second grade kid who is still waiting for the bell to ring at 2:35.