Monday, January 6, 2014

'Thirty Below' is just an expression...

View from our window 1/6/14
I grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota, where we expected subzero weather all winter long (and I do mean long). My mother would wake us, go down to the kitchen to start breakfast, and call back up the stairs, "Get up, and dress warm. It's thirty below!" Often, it was. Other days it might only be ten or twenty below, but you still needed to dress for it.

So "thirty below" became an expression that meant, "It's so cold your eyes will hurt." It's so cold your glasses will freeze to your face." And, "It's so cold you better hope your mittens dried out overnight."

Minus 12 at 4 p.m.
It never meant "You can stay home from school." My mother did keep me home one day, when I was in kindergarten and, I swear, the temperature was 54 below. This number is burned into my brain, and I suppose it could be the product of a misunderstanding, but who's going to argue? It was so cold that my mother, who sent me out to walk four blocks to school when it was thirty below, kept me home.

When I was in third grade it was super-cold again. By then I was walking three blocks and waiting for a school bus to take me to the Catholic school. My mom hated to have me standing out in the cold, and my dad was working out of town, so she asked the neighbor across the street if he would drive me to school. He said okay. But his car wasn't up to the weather. We chugged and lurched our way down the street with all the car's heat (which wasn't much) aimed at the heavily frosted windshield. Three or four blocks from my school the car broke down. He was so apologetic telling me I'd have to walk. But I couldn't quite believe it, and it was a while before I could move to climb out into the wind and the swirling snow. I was late getting to school, and I was so frozen I couldn't even speak to tell my teacher what had happened.

"Feels like" minus 40
I'm glad Minnesota schools are closed today, and glad most or all will be closed tomorrow. By Wednesday the high temperature here will be around zero, but it will still be well below that up north. I think about cold children, and homeless people, and folks who have to work outdoors in this weather. And I remember what a burden it was for me just to get dressed and drive three miles to work in this kind of weather, and to hike on icy sidewalks through blustering wind to get from the parking lot to my office. And I am SO GLAD I am retired and blessed with a warm, cozy house.

On Thursday morning, we get back to driving the grandkids to school. It's supposed to be 16 degrees above zero all day. That will be easy!


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