Booked for Christmas – E.B. White Winter

cold weather lake-2

Excerpts from Cold Weather by E.B. White in plain face; all italics mine.

For about a month now we have had solid cold – firm, business-like cold that stalked in and took charge of the countryside as a brisk housewife might take charge of someone else’s kitchen in an emergency.  Clean, hard purposeful cold, unyielding and unremitting.  Some days have been clear and cold, others have been stormy and cold.  We have had cold with snow and cold without snow, windy cold and quiet cold, rough cold and indulgent peace loving cold.  But always cold.

I wake up this morning at about 5:30 – my usual unemployed time.  A few dozes added in brings the hour of actual rising to 6:03.  The first business of the day, which I can accomplish while still completely horizontal, is to consult the time and weather screen on my phone.  I perk up as soon as I see the temperature…sixteen!  That is a mighty hopeful improvement over yesterday, which was barely above 0 at this hour. Then, below the big, friendly double digit number, I see the fine print.  My eyes widen.  High for today 5 degrees.  Low minus 2.  I sigh, and get my feet on the ground.  This is going to need some coffee.

Morning comes and the bed is a vise from which it is almost impossible to get free.  Once up, things seem very fine, and there are fires to be made all over the house and the old dog has to be wrapped in a wool throw because of his rheumatism… Then everybody compares notes, each reads the thermometer for himself, and wonders whether the car will start.

An hour or so of reading (I struggle virtuously to keep “or so” from turning into an entire morning), approximately 12 ounces of coffee plus 35 minutes of meditation, and I must face the truth.  I  review the time and temperature screen again.  Seven degrees.  A ten-degree drop in 2 hours ain’t slowly falling temperatures, my friend.  I better do what I need to do in the relative warmth of the day’s seven remaining degrees.  That means, at a minimum and largely out of superstition, fill the gas tank and add some gasline anti-freeze.  I begin the process of getting dressed.

The question of clothes becomes a topic for everybody.  The small boy, who has relied thus far on a hunting cap with flaps down, digs up an old stocking cap as midwinter gear.  I exhume my Army underdrawers, saved from the little war of 1918.  The snow squeaks under the rubber tread of the boot, …

Cold weather  hasn’t posed a problem for me since I discovered you could put breadbags between your feet and socks, and thus continue wearing sneakers in the snow.  In recent years my tactical wardrobe has been based on down, and lots of it, purchased inexpensively from a jealously guarded secret thrift store that everyone knows about.  Long down, hooded down, shorter down, thinner down.  Down that once bestowed invincibility as I suited up for winter’s worst, recently identified as a culprit in my asthma.  Last year, I had to give up wool for the same reason – too much respiratory risk.  There hasn’t been time to find affordable down replacements in the aisles of my usual thrift stores.  (Such boons require persistence, and the grace of good luck.)  And the truth is – nothing, no nothing is as good as down.    For the time being my ensemble consists of a long, black fake fur dress coat (warm, fuzzy high collar) over a leather jacket (impervious to wind), and turban concocted most inadequately from a scarf.  For the first time since high school, I am improperly equipped for winter.

There is a fraternity of the cold, to which I am glad I belong.  Nobody is kept from joining.  Even old people, sitting by the fire belong, as the floor draft closes in around their ankles.  The members get along well together:  extreme cold when it first arrives seems to generate cheerfulness and sociability.  For a few hours, all life’s dubious problems are dropped in favor of the clear and congenial task of keeping alive.  …The cold hasn’t a chance really against our club, against our walls, our wool, the blaze in our stove, the clever mitten, the harsh sock, the sound of kindling, the bright shirt that matches the bright cap…  A truck driver, through a slit in his frosted windshield, grins at me and I grin back.  This interchange, translated means:  “Some cold, Bud, but nothing but what your buggy and my buggy can handle.”

By 9:38 the car is warm – in a manner of speaking.  Meanwhile, the fleece hat and scarves I bought last week are sudsing away in the laundry.  Tonight, when I go for Christmas steak and bourbon with my friend, I can finally wrap my naked scalp in something warm.  From the gas station, I’ll drive to Madison.  I believe it’s important to give the car some exercise today, even if I won’t get any.  At the pump next to me, a huge black and white pit bull watches from the driver’s side window.  Her sleepy, mellow eyes catch mine.  “Hi, hi you!”  I grin back at her.  I love to baby talk to dogs.  As I am adding the HEET to my tank, I hear:  “Molly, get in the back now.  Molly!  in the back!  In – the – back!”   Molly’s human has returned and is trying to be the boss of her.  I can see from the size of the links on the choke chain collar how well that is going.  “Her English isn’t so good, huh?”  I say smiling.  He laughs.  “We’re working on it!” and gets in beside Molly, crowding her out of her seat and into the back.  My gas pump clinks off at $26.  I wedge myself into my spot behind the wheel.  I barely fit, it seems, for all the extra insulation surrounding me.  In my purse, I have 2 book, in case I feel coffee-ish once I get to Madison, and mittens to go over my gloves.  The low winter sunlight casts everything in the glow of a warm afternoon, all day long.  I take off my gloves.  No matter that it is now 5 degrees.  Nothing your buggy and my buggy can’t handle.

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