What a great winter that was! We had taken up cross-country skiing a couple of years before. On most weekends, and not a few evenings during the week, we’d head out to a trail to enjoy the winter scenery.
One of my favorite outings was the “Mantorville” trail. One of the local ski clubs had worked with landowners between the village of Mantorville and the county park just north of Byron, Oxbow Park, to mark off a ski trail. Somehow, they had found a dozen miles of forest, plains, trees, ponds, and hills unmatched for beauty and skiing fun. My friend Bill and I could easily finish the trail in an afternoon.
Winters were more winter-like in the seventies. The snow came earlier, often by Thanksgiving, and stayed later, sometimes skiable into March. The best weeks saw a cold snap mid-week, a couple of inches of fluffy snow on a Thursday afternoon, then a dusting of snow Friday night and brilliant sunshine on Saturday morning. We didn’t even care how cold it was if there was new snow. It wasn’t just the Mantorville trail, either. The trails at Whitewater State Park were even better. Hundreds of square miles of bluffs covered with state forest. Big hills and incredible vistas. Even local golf courses were fun to ski on a dark winter night. We always had someplace to go skiing.
When a long weekend demanded better skiing, we’d head off to someplace exotic, like Grand Marais, on the North Shore of Lake Superior. New vistas overlooking the lake. Fantastic rivers frozen into magic. Restaurants we’d never been to. Those were some great winters.
We’d planned a day of skiing for that Saturday morning in February of 1978. Friends would take our baby boy for the day. Everything was perfect.
Except the weather. It got ugly. Sunny. Warm. It started Friday and didn’t get any better the morning we were supposed to head out to the trails. Warmer by the minute. There would be nothing but mud in the fields by the time we got going. Oh, that’s disappointing.
I picked up the newspaper and flipped through pages. “Hey, did you see this old house for sale?”
We’d moved into the townhouse just a year and a half earlier and hadn’t gotten out of the habit of looking at the house for sale adverts in the paper.
“You mean that one downtown?”
We couldn’t go skiing, why not stop by and look at an open house on the way to the grocery store? We needed supplies anyway and that would kill the rest of the morning. The baby was out of the house, we couldn’t just sit at home!
That realtor didn’t know what hit him. Within an hour of us walking in the door we had gone from planning a ski trip to making the biggest purchase of a lifetime. I loved the neighborhood, and Judy fell in love with the porch swing. What started as a way to fill a morning ended up taking the rest of our life.
We hadn’t planned on buying a house. In fact, it cost plenty to make the move right then. As part of a government program, we’d taken a significant tax credit to buy the townhouse. We had to give it back. We hadn’t made any plans to take out a loan to buy a house that cost twice what the townhouse did.
It was an impulse buy to end them all. Some people get a candy bar or magazine at the supermarket checkout. We got a house on Second Street. Maybe we should have regretted that move, but it turned out to be one of the best things we ever did.
As I write this, I’m sitting just a couple of feet from where we signed the offer to buy this house, almost forty years ago. We still love this house. The neighborhood is even better, and I’ve refinished the porch swing a couple of times. Two kids graduated from the house, now the grand children run circles through the kitchen, living room and dining room.
Sometimes you get lucky. Picking up the newspaper on that winter day in 1978 was one of those times.