Today’s Minnesota winter weather cycle is downright balmy compared to the brutal multi-week sub-zero days of my youth. We knew adverse weather was good for us, because that’s what the adults told us. “Hey! No complaining. It’s good for you. Keeps you strong. Builds character!”
We were strong. And we somehow survived without the evolved “science” of meteorology. Looking through photo albums, I see we were not only strong, but also, scrawny, no doubt from wearing an extra 50-pounds of clothing in order to survive the trek to school.
Long before the “science of forecasting evolved”, generations of transplanted northern and central Europeans had developed a weather language that worked for us. We knew, when our mother said, “It’s bitterly cold”, she meant, “Have a care, there’s danger out there.” Weather colloquialisms – “Kinda chilly”, “bone chillin’ cold”, “nippy out there”, “slick and slow goin”, “downright frigid”, and “getting dumped on” – communicated concerns, worries, fears, for which degree-specific temperatures would have been too sterile. They also baited others into conversation, hooking them like leech attract a trophy Walleye .
“So, it’s a ‘cold one’ out there today, you know, my car was ‘froze up’ pretty good”, guaranteed a brisk round of office water-cooler conversations. Everyone had something to contribute, when they heard those catchy phrases, “cold one” and “froze up”.
Without colloquialisms, conversations died after one try, like car batteries grinding to a halt in sub-zero temperatures. “So, minus 25, you know”, only required a nod and a half-hearted, “Yep” in reply.
Toward the end of winter, cabin fever took its toll, a discerning ear able to pick out little cries for help. A thorough study, decades from now, will trace the advent of talk-therapy as having been invented in Minnesota, by Minnesotans, for Minnesotans:
Q: “So, how are you?”
A: “I’d be better if it was summer….tired of shoveling….feeling kinda achy…”.
Q: “So, how ya been?”
A: “Wishin’ this weather would warm up. You know, enough is enough….”
Q: “So, what’s new with you?”
A: “Had to get a new battery. Old one just couldn’t take the cold anymore. I’m starting to feel the same way, like I need recharging or something…”
Q: “So, how’s it going?”
A: “It’s going good. Too good. Warm. Sunny. Dry. Kinda got me worried. We’re gonna pay the price for that, you know.”
My mother’s daily inquiry, “So, how was your walk home from school?”, was really a request for a body-part check-list: “Well, my nose nearly froze, feet are like blocks of ice, feeling is just now coming back into my fingers…”, I’d tell her, sniffling as my nose thawed, while twitching my cheeks and forehead, attempting to get the blood circulating.
“Oh, well, that’s good”, was my mother’s practical encouragement, handing me Kleenex, “so, just make sure you wear an extra scarf and pair of socks tomorrow, and remember, Spring will be here before you know it.”
Half our miseries are caused by things that we think are coming upon us. – J.C. Ryle
When Spring arrived, we did not let down our weather-guard. Our mantra switched to, “Winter will be here before you know it,” the impetus propelling us out-the-door into the great outdoors – camping, fishing, swimming, water-skiing, boating, sailing, picnicking, golfing, tennis, and biking. With each reeled-in fish, swing of the 3-wood, and campfire-roasted marshmallow, my father urged us on, “Hurry up and have fun”.
That should not be mistaken, by the way, for optimistic thinking, something for which Minnesotans are not known. It is quite the opposite, what I call, “weather-fatalism”: “Life is short, and shorter still, because winter is coming”.
School days, on the other hand, were seldom shortened or canceled – no more than a half-dozen in the 12 years I attended – due to “bad weather”. When the predominant mentality is, “All weather is bad”, the deciding factor rested on the ability of snowplows to clear snow. No school buses? No school.
It helped, of course, that only Type-A personalities were hired for the positions of snowplow and school bus drivers. Trudging single-file through 12, 16, 18-inches of snow, often struggling through knee-deep snow drifts, hundreds of us blazed trails to school, some flinging bitter comments, “You lucky stiffs”, at the packed school buses flying by.
During my college years, I noticed a shift in the attitude of weather forecasters, from, “More snow and cold, but then, well, you know this IS Minnesota, folks…”, changing to that of a nervous-nanny: “You’ll need to bundle up, folks. It’s best to dress in layers. And don’t forget to protect those exposed areas, too, because, well, we live in Minnesota, and Minnesotans have to deal with windchill! And keep in mind, when it snows, those sidewalks can get pretty darned slippery, so you want to exert some caution out there…”….
My disgruntled grandfather, who spent his life working outside at a lumber mill, in every imaginable type of weather, groused at the TV. “Who is this jerk? What’s he think? That I was born yesterday? What happened to the weather report? What do you mean, ‘this IS the weather report’?????”
Poor Grandpa would be having an even bigger fit these days, if he saw the cleavage and tight-fitting garments now required of meteorologists.
2009 International Conference on Climate Change, March 8-10, New York City
|Posted on Feb 01, 2009 by Sharon in Family and | Permalink | Comments(0)|
|tags: cold, minnesota, temperature, weather|