I'm always disappointed when it happens, even though it always happens every year about now.
Every year my hopes are dashed when cold weather arrives. Just once, couldn't the delivery service that brings this cosmic deep freeze "accidentally" lose my address?
But, no! Cold weather invariably turns up and invariably overstays its welcome. It's like an in-law who ensconces himself on your couch and hogs the TV remote and uses up all the hot water and leaves the refrigerator door hanging wide open and teaches your toddler some colorful new words.
The term "Old Man Winter" has long been used as a name for this season. I think "Dunderheaded Brother-in-law" would be much more appropriate.
In this part of the world, cold is a palpable substance, as real and as hard as an anvil. Those of us who have lived through the crucible of the cold are imbued with an attitude and a set of values that are particular to Northerners.
The attitude could best be summed up with the words "it could be worse." After enduring just one of our average winters, we know that no matter what manner of catastrophe might befall us we should never complain because it could always be worse.
This is because it has often been worse. At least that's the consensus of those who talk about the weather, a segment of the population that includes approximately everyone. If you live in this region and don't have a good story to tell regarding nasty winter weather, you may suffer from a lack of imagination. Don't let the misfortune of not having experienced a spate of bad winter weather stand in the way of a riveting tale!
When I was a kid, the talk at Christmastime gatherings inevitably turned to the weather. "This winter might be a tough one," one of the adults might intone, "But it isn't anywhere near as bad as the winter of '42!" Heads would nod in silent agreement.
Someone else would say, "The squall we had last week was nothing compared to the blizzard of '54. Now there was a storm!" Heads would again bob in concurrence.
Not wanting to be left out, I would say, "That Christmas snowstorm of '61 was really something. The snow was belly deep!"
Never mind that I had been only 4 years old in 1961 and that "belly deep" is a relative term. Never let the facts stand in the way of a compelling story!
The cold has also instilled us with such tidbits of wisdom as "fogged eyeglasses do NOT indicate a heightened level of romantic feelings" and "if you can see your breath when you wake up, the furnace has probably run out of fuel" and "it's always the husband's fault when the furnace runs out of fuel."
Most of this is just common sense. But it's surprising how uncommon common sense can be.
For example, one would think that nobody should have to be told "shut the door, you're letting all the heat out of the house!" Yet you would not believe the number of times we had to say that to our boys when they were growing up!
Another ingrained value is to always be prepared. It's no coincidence that the founder of the Boy Scouts was a Northerner.
Being prepared means having enough food on hand to survive a three-day blizzard. This is why the mere mention of snow flurries by the weatherman causes supermarkets to become choked with shoppers. My wife and I have often joined the throng, even though our cupboards already held enough food to feed a troop of Boy Scouts for six months. The be prepared instinct is that strong.
The other night, shortly after our most recent cold front roared through, I stepped outside for a moment. It had dropped to 10 below under a clear sky; the stars were so bright and sharp, you could almost grab Orion by his belt.
And the stars were making noise! Specifically, they were producing a stream of honks and squawks. It took a moment to realize that a flock of geese were passing overhead through the black, brittle ether.
I don't speak goose, but the squawks seemed to be saying "It was YOUR dunderheaded idea to migrate in December! I'm freezing my beak off! Why couldn't we be like the Gundersons? They don't wait until the last minute! They always head south at the end of October!"
Which reminded me that it was time to check on the furnace's fuel level. Because bad as this cold weather might be, I certainly didn't want things to get worse.