When I was growing up on the farm, we went to school, worked, and played outside in all kinds of weather. Shoes were made out of leather with perhaps some kind of either rubber sole or composition sole which lasted a lot longer than leather. If it was raining, you wore a pair of rubber overshoes to keep your feet dry or if in the winter when the snow was deep, you wore rubber buckle up “artic boots” which slipped over your shoes. For a farmer like my father, he wore denim bib overalls and a denim chore coat when he went out to the barn to milk the cows. In really cold weather he would wear wool long johns under his bib overalls – not the nice soft nylon-spandex kind but the real itchy-scratchy one piece wool kind with the button down back flap! And when he had to haul manure from the barn with the tractor and manure spreader in the dead of winter, he would don an old sheepskin coat and a pair of sheepskin mittens which he kept in the barn for such occasions. When the weather was wet or the snow was deep, my father would put on a pair of heavy non-wool socks and his gum boots which almost came up to your knees to keep warm and dry when milking the cows.
Of course, we teenagers wouldn’t be caught dead in wool long johns, bib overalls, or rubber overshoes for that matter. And what about scarfs and hats? Scarves were worn by old ladies and hats were worn by those who didn’t have any hair! Of course we had gloves, probably some kind of cotton gloves to protect our hands. But I do remember getting cold. There were many occasions when one had to be outdoors working in the barn in the winter. The first thing that got cold was my feet. Now I don’t mean just a little cold, I mean the numbing kind of cold where your toes become like popsicles and you have to put your feet in a bucket of water to get them thawed out. And you had better use cold water since your feet will sting like they are on fire if you try to thaw them out too fast! The next thing that got cold was your hands – especially if you got into a snow ball fight with your brothers or friends and your gloves became wet! Or you washed the cow’s udders with disinfected water before milking. The rest of your body was usually warm because you were pitching manure onto the spreader, tossing down some ensilage for the cows from the silo, or you were upstairs in the barn throwing down bales of hay and straw for the cows.
I think it’s sad that we no longer see children playing outside. Especially since the days of cold wet hands and feet are now gone! There is no question in my mind that man-made materials have gone a long way in keeping us comfortable outside all day long. During winters in the Finger Lakes, I will not go outside without my Gore-Tex lined shoes or boots and waterproof Gore-Tex gloves. Yet a long time ago, I used to and not think anything of it!