Darkness failed to keep us from having winter fun

Jerry Apps
Don’t let a dark night prevent you from having fun outdoors this winter.

The winter nights on the farm, when I was a kid were long, cold, and dark. No one in our farm community had electricity until after World War II. So, there were no yard lights piercing the darkness, only lamps and lanterns creating slivers of light in farm homes and barns. And there were no flashlights.

We didn’t let the darkness prevent us from having winter fun. One thing we did fairly often was walk to Chain O’ Lake, which was about a mile and half from our farm and have a skating party. There might be a dozen of us, all schoolmates from our nearby country school.

First thing we’d do upon arriving at the lake was to build a good size fire on the shore of the lake, which provided enough light so could see to clamp on our skates. The fire also warmed us if the night happened to be one of those that was below zero.

One of us would bring a shovel from home, and we’d clear a goodly size area on the ice. And then we’d skate, forward and backward. Fast and slow. We raced each other across the ice. We played crack the whip. We’d stop when we would hear a loud bang. We knew what it was, it was ice contracting, creating long cracks. We said this was the lake talking to us.

As dark as the night might be, especially if there was no moon, we could see quite well. It was walking by starlight, something that few people can or would want to experience these days. Maybe it was because our eyes were accustomed to dim lighting—that which a kerosene lamp or lantern might provide. Or maybe it was because that’s all the light there was. Stay home or walk by starlight—and be thrilled when there was full moon, and more light, much more light as the moonlight bounced from the snow-covered fields.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Don’t let a dark night prevent you from having fun.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to