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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Next Thing You Know, Your Toes are Black

The temperature at the bus stop yesterday morning was 7 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 Celsius).

It is, by the way, shortly after declaring the temperature that your average Minnesotan is required to tell you the incredibly important facts they have gleaned over a lifetime, all of which are based on truth and specifically embellished for gruesome-ness.

Let me get you started, should you find yourself unable to come to Minneapolis this winter.

Ahem.

Did you know that at this temperature skin freezes? First the skin hurts, then it goes solid white and hard, then it stops hurting, and then it turns black and falls off. I knew a guy once, lost two toes snowmobiling. True story.

Did you know that 75% of heat is lost through the head? Would you believe 80%?

Did you know that there are stories of the settlers forced to kill, split, and climb inside an ox to stay alive when hit by a blizzard while coming back from town? Could you imagine being inside an ox during a snow storm? Could you imagine it at any other time?

My father told me, when I was 10, that it wasn’t until he was in his late 20s that he truly understood just how debilitating the cold was. A salesman for a cigarette manufacturer, he often traveled to the Dakotas; and while both Dakotas are known for their unreasonably cold and windy winters, he was in North Dakota when he first truly understood Winter's desire to kill him.

“I’ve got some promotional items with me. Cardboard signs, free lighters, drink coasters, that sort of thing. So I run out to the car for them.”

Dad takes a drag of his cigarette, looks off into the distance and shudders slightly, the cold still fresh in his mind.

“You ever been in a fifty-below windchill, Patty?”

My father, unable to recall the ages of his children (“What are you now, 16?” he asked me in fourth grade) is also unable to recall their names and often calls me by his sister's, something he does to this day.

“No, Dad. I don’t think I have.”

“It’ll kill you.” He takes another hit off his cigarette. “See, the thing is that it hurts. It hurts really bad. And then suddenly, it doesn’t. Suddenly, you’re getting warm again. Isn’t that nice?” He pounds the table with the palm of his left hand. “But no! You’re not warm! You’re freezing to death.”

He shakes his head. “As long as you’re in pain, you’re okay. The minute you start getting warm and sleepy and the pain is gone, you’re done for.”

He stares out the window. “Don’t ever fall asleep in the snow. I don’t care how tired you are. You ever fall asleep in the snow, you’ll never wake up.”

He takes another hit of his cigarette. “But that didn’t happen that time in North Dakota.”

I waited. Dad likes to take his time with a story.

“Nope. That’s not how it happened at all.”

Oh. Now I see. “So what did happen, Dad?”

“I put my coat on, right? Grab the keys to the car. I figure, hey, I’ll be in and out, no need for gloves. I’m out there less than two seconds, it seems, when I am completely chilled. Fifty degrees below zero! Think about it, Pearl!”

I think about it. I nod solemnly.

“So I’m holding the keys,” he holds his hand out, shows me how he’s holding the keys, “and I’m back at the trunk, and I drop them. Huh. I pick them up. I drop them again! I bend over, I pull them out of the snow – and I drop them again! And I can feel my fingers slowing down! My fingers won’t hold the keys! I can't get in the car! And I think to myself, man, this is how people die. First it’s the fingers, then it’s the toes, pretty soon you’re stumbling in circles, walking on what feels like someone else’s feet.”

“So what happened, Dad?”

“What happened?” He stands, walks to the fridge and gets himself a beer. “I died! I froze in the snow!”

My face betrays my shock and my dad laughs. “I didn’t die,” he says quickly. He pops the top off his beer.

He pauses, takes a drink of his beer.

“Yep,” he says. “I didn't die that time. But that’s how it happens, I'll bet.”

40 comments:

Teresa Evangeline said...

Oh the tales our fathers could tell. I grew up with the knowledge that is was the warmth after the unbearable pain that was the killer. Good to be reminded as we roll into winter here in tundra country.

Love your father stories.

jabblog said...

I got quite cold reading this!

Macy said...

Puts our miserable wee -2C in the shade so to speak
Take care!

Esther Montgomery said...

I can't imagine sitting inside an ox in a heat wave - or, rather, I can but would rather not.

I can imagine sitting inside an ox in a snowstorm. I might not have done so before I read your post but, having read it now, I think I'll begin to look for an ox at first sight of a snowflake. (When in Dakota, that is.)

Daisy said...

Oh Lord! Now I'm REALLY cold!
Another great story pearl!

Sioux said...

And nothing about a phenomenal jazz musician when your dad was weaving this tale? What a surprise!

Leenie said...

Yeah, one of the first things kids learn is to listen to their parents and believe NONE of what they say.

I think Mythbusters busted the heat out of the head thing. And if you sit down and think about it-- how you gonna get that ox to hold still while you cut through his tough hide with a dull knife being held by fingers that you can't feel. Unless it's already dead and then it wouldn't be warm inside....

Whatever--I still love to hear your dad's stories. You make them come alive.

Symdaddy said...

That brings back memories of the time I got frostbite of the neck.









My head fell off, but I got better!

SherilinR said...

i spent a couple winters in upstate ny in the mountains & holy shnikies it was cold up there! nothing like having the snot in your nose and tears in your eyes frozen within 5 minutes of walking outside.

Shelly said...

Makes me feel downright wimpy for draping myself head to toe in flannel and complaining about how cold it was last week when we dropped into the 60's.

aamedor said...

brrrr

ellen abbott said...

I do not do well in the cold. my bloods gets sluggish and getting any kind of work done takes supreme effort and that's just in the 50s.

Lolamouse said...

I hate the cold. Really, really, really hate the cold.

Courtney said...

GREAT post! I vividly remember running from the house to the car once and not being able to feel my legs. But I already knew winter was out to kill me :-)

Vapid Vixen said...

What are you now? 16? This post is great for so many reasons. I was giggling a lot through this one. Well done!

jenny_o said...

The wind chill factor is what gets me - it can drop our usual -10C or -20C down to -30C or lower. Brrr!

Great post. I think it must have been entertaining to grow up around your father ... and the acorn apparently didn't fall far from the tree :)

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

My dad was a soldier and he would tell HORROR stories of arctic survival. It was the only environment that scared him to be in. They lost a guy one night when he didn't hold onto the tent rope when he went to go pee and got disorientated and dead pretty quick.

I remember a teacher when I taught on Baffin Island that almost died when she tried to run the 100 feet from the door of the school to the door of the apartment we teachers lived in in -60 degree celcius weather. She had no jacket, boots or gloves. Thought she could just pop over at lunch and no problem. She was found they guess a half hour after she left. Not good but she lived.

Eva Gallant said...

My dad was like yours when it came to remembering kids ages. He introduced me to one of his former coworkers at a funeral: "What are you now? 17, 18? I was 27 at the time!

Lisa said...

Brrrr I got very cold reading this story and then the ending just cracked me up.

Garrison Keller tells his tall tales about Minnesota's cold winters right??? Yicks!!! I don't think I could go there. I'm cold in South Carolina and it's 47. Brrrrrrr!!!

Beach Bum said...

Was able to pick my permanent duty station when I enlisted in the army, I picked Colorado since I had only seem snow four times in my life before 1986.

Got there in July, the first snow was in October and by January I was ready to go home. Had to keep Uncle Sammy happy and stay there until 1990. Needless to say I hate the very suggestion of frozen water falling from the sky.

The Elephant's Child said...

I love our wimpy winters, but yours might be testing. On the other hand our summers are definitely out to kill me, or to send me mad. But wait...

Gigi said...

Our winters aren't out to kill us - they only wish to annoy; but now the summers? Sometimes I think they might be looking to kill us.

Murr Brewster said...

Reminds me of my mom during our mild, but occasionally snowy, winters in Arlington VA. That snow would come down and she'd huddle in her coat and the church ladies would say, "oh, but you're used to this, Hazel, you're from North Dakota!"

"I NEVER GOT USED TO IT!!" First time I ever heard mom use capital letters.

I do remember dissecting animals in biology lab in London. They didn't heat the buildings much. We'd toast our hands over the guts. Okay, enough of that.

Jerry said...

I think I like your dad. Oops, need to turn up the heat, It's 45-degrees outside.

Jayne Martin said...

In California, we freeze to death if the temperature falls below 50.

Yes, we really do. :)

Hey, kiddo. Drop by. I've got a book, too.

Belle said...

I remember that about California.

I just love the way your dad told a story. Absolutely love the way he asked if you were 16. What a character.
My dad used to tell stories about growing up in Canada and people getting lost in the snow. Most farms had a rope from the house to the barn and you better hope you didn't let go of it in a snowstorm.

NotesFromAbroad said...

I don't have a Dad.
Can I have yours ? I share nicely :)
<3

Troll said...

You probably are contemplating suicide or quitting blogging now that a commenter has compared you to Garrison Keiler.

Don't do it. You're nothing like Garrison Keiler. You can write. You're funny. I'm reasonably sure you are not the demonic spawn of Kevin McHale's fugly Sister and the Frankenstein Monster.

Amber Star said...

When it is 120 degrees outside I really want some COLD weather and when it is 10 degrees it is whining time in Texas. It doesn't even matter if it is farenheit or celcius. Nope...neither are any good.

Tempo said...

Ive never seen anything that cold and hope to never feel it. Out here in Oz we usually own just one coat and maybe one pair of gloves...I do have a lot of shorts and T-shirts though...

River said...

Much as I like the cooler weather we get here in Aus, I NEVER want to be as cold as you Minnesotans. Or the other snowy states. Bad enough when it's 10C degrees here. Our summers are another story, that's when I dream of moving to a snowbound cave in Alaska. Emphasis on dream.

Steve Bailey said...

ya thats crazy...... I would not make it in that kinda cold..... plus Im guessing peeing outside is out of the question...

Young at Heart said...

brilliant chilly tale.........!!

Bushman said...

Well you had us beat here in the mitten state it was a balmy 10 degrees yesterday morning. So we did what any good midwesterner would do. We went out and cut down a Christmas tree.
Pure exhiliration when it's that cold!

R. Jacob said...

A few years before I left the frozen tundra we call Chicago in the winter. I experienced 70 below wind chill. A narrative that could be a post if so needed.

The following weekend, it was only 50 below. We laughed that it was warming up. Coming to our senses, we moved to God's waiting room, Florida and lived happily during the winter ever since.

Rosalind Adam said...

I love your Dad. He sounds amazing. I don't, on the other hand, like the sound of your winters. I thought we had some chilly days but yours are beyond my comprehension. Keep warm.

Pat said...

P'raps I'll put Everest on the back burner.

Laoch of Chicago said...

God, I have been dreading the coming of the leaden winter.

haphazardlife said...

I'll take the heat over the cold any day. Cold is nasty and evil. And your dad is right, it wants us dead.

ThreeOldKeys said...

if your friend gives you a six-pack of home brew for Christmas, do not leave it in your car overnight.

unless you already need to replace the windshield.