Jan 152018

January 15, 2018

Do you remember the metal ice trays your parent kept in their freezer?  Do you remember the sticky touch of the metal against your skin when you pulled the lever to open the tray?That feeling of metal against skin describes precisely how our last week of cold weather feels to me.

Any time the temperature drops below 40 degrees, I want to turn into a pumpkin (a beautiful round pumpkin that’s sitting in a condo in Clearwater, Florida.)  This is my blog, so I can write what I want, and today I’m going to kvetch mightly about the bitter cold. No, I don’t have to be focused or disciplined on my blog.  Verbal diarrhea, here we go.

I grew up in northeastern Indiana, in an area that was not directly affected every winter day by Lake Effect snow, but impacted often enough.  That being said, the Fort Wayne area still had its share of snow and ice and frigid temps.

We were entirely unaware of what a crisis it was.  Snow days at school were rare.  We did not miss church or out-of-town basketball games, because of a little snow.  My dad shoveled our driveway, and we drove.  We didn’t have a snow blade, though sometimes a neighbor would clear out the driveway.  We also didn’t have a vehicle for snow; Dad drove a four-door Chevy sedan and even with no all-wheel drive, we just plowed through.

Dad took care of everything at home; all I had to do was get into the warm car. (Thanks, Dad. At 87, he is still fearless. Yesterday he went to church in five-degree weather and told me he was surprised there were few people there.)

When I went away to college, I learned to despise the cold weather.

Didn’t help that my five years (undergraduate plus one year of grad school) came during several of the worst winters of the last century.  On January 25, 2018, we’ll celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Blizzard of ’78 (I am most grateful that college students didn’t have SmartPhones then, enough said.)  Ball State canceled classes for five days, Thursday and Friday, and then three days the following week.  I didn’t leave Hurlbut Hall, though I was out with friends as the storm roared in (visiting Mr. Happy Burger in Elwood.  Our every-other-week payday tradition was to visit dives in outlying towns.  We hustled back to campus, via Bob’s Bottle Shoppe.)

1977 was the coldest of my college years. I walked home from my student job every night.  I worked from four to seven as a cashier in a men’s dining hall.  The first three months of 1977 boasted some of the coldest weather I remember.  My workplace was at least a mile, maybe two, from my dorm.  I went to work directly from class, so I carried my big backpack of books.  I wore a heavy parka, blue with an orange lining, a long stocking cap, mittens over gloves, and a scarf.  My boots stayed on all day. Not a Bobbie Brooks girl of the seventies, I wore what many did: jeans, a t-shirt, and a flannel shirt.

One night I walked home, through the Quad, across the Scramble Light, down the slippery hill back of University Hall, and was nearly to the parking garage when I fell.  I slipped and landed on my back, like a turtle.  The heavy backpack hoisted me up enough that I was flailing and unable to get up.  After 7 p.m. on a night where wind chills dove below zero, few people were out.  I thrashed around on the ground, and a random stranger came along and helped me get up.

Those five years in Muncie, while filled with many nights with wind chills in the below ten and twenty range, weren’t enough to drive me out of Indiana. My grandparents wintered in Clearwater, Florida, every year and I visited them frequently, starting with Spring Break 1958.  I loved the Clearwater area and always dreamed of moving there someday.

The winter of 1982 was the last straw.

I was a staff writer at Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne, a regional campus of the two Big 10 Indiana state universities.  I rented a townhouse WITH A GARAGE.  I was so excited to have a garage, having dug my car out of a snowbank many times.  I needed to be at work early, as it was my responsibility to call the media if classes were canceled or delayed.  What I didn’t think about when I rented the townhouse the previous summer, was that the detached garage did not have a garage door opened.  (Making $14,000 a year didn’t allow me the luxury to buy one for a rented place.)  When it snowed, the snow drifted against the door of the garage.  To get my car out, I had to spend an hour digging through the drifts to get my lean machine, a 1981 Chevette, out of the garage.  The garage was not attached to the townhouse and at the rear of the property.  Even when I managed to dig out the drifts, the driveway to the driveway wasn’t ever plowed.  I was better off to leave my car on the street in front of the house.

Every workday in January, February, and most of March, I dug out my car on Woodmark Drive. (Not a part of this story, but when the snow melted, Fort Wayne’s three rivers flooded and the city had a remarkable flood.  My friend who lived downtown stayed with me.  She was a reporter, and later was part of a team that won a Pulitzer for outstanding coverage of the flood. The flood also affected the university; I rode in a boat inside several buildings with our chancellor and a photographer to capture the eerie mess.)

That was enough.  I had had it.  I was going to Florida, come hell or high water (and I had seen both in the first part of that year.)  I started subscribing to the defunct Clearwater Sun and the then-St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times), and secured a job as a writer in the Foundation of Morton Plant Hospital.  Morton Plant, at that time, was a 980-bed hospital and was the fourth largest hospital in Florida.

I loved Florida and still consider it my second home.  Circumstances change, and The Love of My Life joined me at the end of 1982, and the rest, we say, is history.  My Beloved went to graduate school at the University of South Florida, obtaining two graduate degrees (after a stint as a third-shift janitor at Morton Plant.)  He wanted to come home, and when he accepted a job at the University of Evansville, we loaded up our ancient Volvo and headed here thirty years ago this month. I can’t say I regret the move; it’s a great place to raise a child.  But every year I have these thoughts of warm sunshine.

Hurlbut Hall fishbowl, January 1978.

God willing, I’m coming back, with the same enthusiasm as spring 1958.  As soon as My Beloved is retired, we’ll go south again for the cold months. You can take the white sand out of my shoes, but the sunshine never leaves my heart.

(And now I have to put on multiple layers of clothing and go outside and feed my own angry birds.)

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