We are in the midst of a record-breaking winter, and two thoughts come to mind. One, don’t even talk to me about global warming. And two, welcome to my childhood.
I grew up in Cache Valley, Utah in the days when little girls had to wear dresses to school, after which we would all go home and sit in bathtubs of water to thaw out and melt the frostbite on our knees. Utah’s record low recorded temperature is -69 degrees. I kid you not. The average winter temperature in Antarctica is -30. My dad would spend hours shoveling a tunnel of fresh snow from our front door to the car, through which I would walk, with white walls of snow piled far above my head. We used to laugh when people would say Eskimos had seven words for snow (a vocabulary hoax you can Google anytime), when we had a dozen or more. There was slush, powder, dust, wet snow, packed powder, drifts, sugar snow, crust, corn snow, pellets, grains, and crud. Folks routinely dealt with frozen pipes, frozen car locks, and frozen milk bottles. Why penguins were not an indigenous species there escapes me.
Then we moved to Salt Lake City, still cold but not record-setting, and finally to sunny Southern California where I couldn’t believe the high school didn’t have a ski club. But it took me approximately 2 minutes to adapt to this new, subtropical climate, and I vowed never again to live in a frozen tundra.
And then, a few years into our marriage, Bob and I moved with our four kids to Iowa. Bob was hired as the lead evening TV news anchor. Our dog, the only family member with the proper reaction to this, promptly had a stroke. We bought our house on the one autumn day they have each year, when the leaves are ablaze and the turquoise sky is filled with bouncy white clouds. And then winter comes slamming in with ice storms and frigid blasts that knock the -40 temperatures down to -70 with the wind chill. And it lasts for 9 months. Winterfest is cancelled. Outdoor hockey games are cancelled. Radio reporters tell you how long you can be outside before flesh freezes, and nightly newscasts are filled with photos of dead livestock heaped up in piles. Bob was on the news, of course, so the kids would watch during dinner and howl with laughter when the weatherman would say, “Well, we’re colder than Alaska and colder than Siberia again.” Evidently a jet stream would pass over North Dakota and Minnesota, then swoop down over Iowa to dump a fresh load of snow and ice before rising again and heading out over Illinois. Iowa was the coldest spot on the map.
I would glance over at the dog’s water bowl, frozen solid. It was inside the house, but next to the doggie door through which icy wind would blow. I wore gloves and a knit scarf to cook. Like my neighbors, I began using my patio for extra freezer space. I gave hot chocolate to my daughter when she went out to build a snowman and came in ten minutes later with waxy-looking frostbite on her cheeks. I saw icicles in my children’s hair after they cleared the driveway with the snow blower. I watched as the snow plow came by and piled all our freshly-shoveled snow into a mountain blocking our driveway, big enough to go sledding on. I listened to locals brag that these ridiculous conditions built character and wondered why Jesus never advised people to seek out harsh climates in order to develop virtues.
After three years in this deep-freeze we finally headed back to California, settling in Sacramento. No more snow for the Hiltons, no sir. And then my daughter decided to serve a mission for our church. Up she went to Utah to the Mission Training Center to learn a new language. In two weeks, guess where she’s going? Norway.