Memories of the Cold

Brigid mentioned the chill winds blowing and a comment there brought to mind days so long gone…

The place, now, is unfamiliar to me – so much more gentrified than ever it was in my day. Rather, it was dank, dangerous, and far too often uncomfortably cold in the winter. The landlord was cheap and the coal that was stuffed into that basement was metered out in a miserly fashion. Our 2nd floor apartment did not have the benefit of rising heat like those at the top. What came from the few aging radiators was sporadic at best. Hardly enough to thaw the mittens we stored there after play.

We were so young, my brother and I, that we didn’t really notice it most of the time. One slept in thermals or flannel nightgowns, huddled under the blankets. You would wake to frost on the inside of the window pane, the single and ancient glass hardly sufficient against that kind of weather. I used to get up in the night and trace that feathery ice foliage with a finger, or blow warm breath on it to melt a spot away. The daylight rendered it mundane but in the night it was like a fairy tale world.

My mother would sometimes try to reach the owner, force him to understand that it was not for her but for her kids that the heat needed to be turned on. Indeed, he would wait far into the season before starting up that furnace. But she also knew that pressing a man that could put her and five kids out in winter was a dangerous thing. It was a kind of internecine war she fought. It was a battle she fought for many years and I think it made her old far too soon.

Once, when it was unbearably freezing – perhaps he was on vacation – mom had us all make beds in the kitchen, that oven set to warm the room, the door to it opened. She put blankets at every entry to keep that heat inside that room. It was so very cozy…I can recall that there was a kind of golden glow in the room…and we all managed to live until the morning and the hot oatmeal that was our winter staple.

I walked a rather long way to school – compared to today’s kids – trudging along in the street where the cars had knocked the snow down a bit. Most of the sidewalks did not get shoveled. You dodged to the walk when the slush was tossed by the wheels then plodded onward. I don’t really recall being overly cold on those walks. Sometimes it was quite nice – bracing, one might say. Crystalline cracking snow…blue, almost.

But mostly it was a trial, that cold. How long did we have to wait outside before they’d open the school doors where we could start to thaw? Would they make us go outside for recess? (Of course they would – they needed a break, too.) Did my gloves thaw and dry in the cloak room or would they become icy weights by the time I got home, useless and chilling my hands more than they’d be if bare.

How I laughed that one time – we’d moved ever so briefly to Virginia – when they closed the schools because there were flurries. Flurries. I got on the bus, so much more mature than the giggling kids, and mentally mocked their pleasure with my city girl disdain.

I haven’t lived in that kind of cold since. I love to visit the snow. There is a part of me that needs that chill, that crunch under foot. I require that inhalation of icy needles to be happy. I haven’t been in over 3 years, I suppose. There is a kind of…mourning…as if that season moves on without me. It doesn’t need me to continue its frost and thaw.

But I need it.

Without that deathly freeze the spring doesn’t rise in a soul…or so it seems to me.

2 responses to “Memories of the Cold

  1. I think that after living now for over 5 years in the bluegrass I'm realizing the same thing. I grew up in Florida and spent most of my military career in warm climates, but I find that only now I'm finally learning to enjoy the cold, the bare trees, the morning frost. Of course, I love it when it snows because there is always fun to be had. But the best part is the sheer thrill of spring, the awakening of the world around you and the sense of renewal that comes with it.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

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