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Monday, December 10, 2012

Next Thing You Know - WHAM!! - Your Toes are Black


The temperature at the bus stop this morning was 8 degrees Fahrenheit (-13 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 being inside an ox 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'm in this bar talking to the owner and 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. Not that time. But that’s how it happens, I'll bet.”

47 comments:

Shelly said...

You Northerners are hardy folks. We moved down into the 50's this morning with a cold front and when I got outside for the first time, I thought I'd have to kill, split, and climb inside an ox to get warm again.

I'd love to just sit with your dad and hear his stories.

Amanda said...

I can't even fathom a cold that cold! You can keep it. I'll stay down here in Texas. We got our end of that cold front with a light dusting of snow. I want it to be cold for Christmas, but this is cold enough. Snow is overrated.

Your dad sounds hilarious!

Vicus Scurra said...

I'll tell you about cold.

Well, maybe some day.

Geo. said...

Would I still lose 75% of my heat through my head if I was upside down?

Daisy said...

I don't ever want to be inside an ox! I'm moving south as soon as I can! :D Hope you stay warm, Pearl. Be careful out there today.

Perpetua said...

Brrrr!!! That makes our just below freezing temperature sound positively balmy, Pearl. The thermometer can drop as low as your bus-stop temperature occasionally in Britain, but it usually makes the news headlines when it does. Keep warm and stay safe.

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

Thank you for this enlightening piece on how one freezes to death, Minnesota-style. Like I told you, it's been balmy here. Lotsa rain. Smells like worms.

bill lisleman said...

An ice cold beer brings out the best stories.

Al Penwasser said...

I've always been amazed that settlers ever chose to live there. Then again, they were moving from Norway, so I guess that's not so much of a stretch.
Except there was threat of Indian attack.
And more ox.

middle child said...

Yep! My husband often skins out an Ox so we can cuddle in it. Very romantic!

Pat said...

Just like my Dad - never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
I miss him.

Eva Gallant said...

There's something about ox innards that does not bring cuddling to mind! But I love your Dad's stories!

Joanne Noragon said...

We saw that big chunk a ice up on Minnesota last night on our weather forecaster's map and my sister and I said Pearl will be cold at the bus stop tomorrow.

savannah said...

75 right now on the plantation, sugar. that's all i have to add. xoxoxoxox

Roshni AaMom said...

Hey Pearl, in appreciation of my readers and commentors, I posted this today: http://www.bigaandlittlea.com/2012/12/top-commentors.html. Do come over and check it out!

Douglas said...

So, if you live in Minnesota, it would be smart to have an ox handy all winter?

The worst cold I can recall was in northern Virginia (about 30 miles west of D.C.), the clear cold air mass came down out of Canada (probably freezing Minnesota into a glacier) and it hurt to breathe.

fishducky said...

It's going to be in the 60's today. I think I'll wear a turtleneck sweater if I can get it off the turtle!

Ruth said...

The older I get the more I hate the cold. The windchill was 5 this morning.
I used to read the gas meters and one was outside by a cornfield. You couldn't wear gloves and write too well. My hands froze in the winter. Totally not worth $10.

Kelly Robinson said...

I love how you told this story -- like the best fiction -- spooled out just perfectly. Here in TN, we had sunshine yesterday, so I'm almost longing for cold.

River said...

I don't ever want to feel that level of cold!
Down here in Oz, some areas get to-5*C or -8*C, but here in Adelaide we don't often get below 0*, most of our really cold days are 2* or 3* which is 32-33F for you people. Usually no more than a couple of days worth.
You'd probably go picnicking in our kind of winter.

Jono said...

My ears, cheeks, nose, and fingers have been frostbitten and they didn't hurt until they started to thaw. I am no longer invincible.

Linda O'Connell said...

I lived in Alaska for almost two years and I do know that kind of cold. I also know where you got your story telling skills.

Joyful Things said...

..and when you inhale, your nostrils slam shut like velcro.

I grew up in Manitoba - I feel your pain.

Bodacious Boomer said...

I think your dad and mine woulda been great friends. Mine was a great storyteller too and grew up in northern Iowa; and according to him he came south as soon as he could.

Make sure you keep everything well bundled. If you ever want to come south for a visit and wouldn't mind staying in a giant ant farm, you're welcome here anytime.:)

Buttons said...

Your Dad and my Mom could write quite a book of tall tales:) B

jenny_o said...

Is this a bad time to tell you the forecast for Atlantic Canada for Wednesday is 14 degrees Celsius, that's PLUS 14! I've never seen a December like this one. In fact, I've never seen an entire year like this one.

*pauses to think about global warming, not for the first time this year*

*then says a prayer for Pearl in her minus 13 degree Celsius weather*....

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

I don't know how you do it, Pearl. You have all my sympathy and a burst of California sunshine. I'm so spoiled, I whine like Snooki when it's below 65 degrees Farehnheit.

xoRobyn

Gigi said...

Oh Pearl, I thought of you this morning as I was listening to the morning weather. Yikes! That's insanely cold. I suggest you move down South immediately. Not TOO far South, mind you. Maybe to NC (no, I don't know WHY I chose NC!). That way you can still get a taste of the seasons and laugh as we bundle up at what we call "cold."

klahanie said...

Hey Pearl,

Okay, I've arrived. After reading your tale, I'm wondering if you have considered working for the Minneapolis Tourist Board :)

NotesFromAbroad said...

Is this why all those people at the campground ( the one time in my life I went camping) slept with their little hats on ? I mean, I thought they were just afraid that something would crawl on their heads, that was my worry... something would crawl on me in my sleep ... shuddering !
So all the heat leaves through the top of your head ..hmmmm... I think I am glad I grew up in North Carolina, where you don't have to worry about black toes and your nostrils slamming shut.

Daisy said...

Reaching for our hat and gloves...

HermanTurnip said...

Eerie coincidence...I'm currently wrapping up Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, and have a new-found respect for the cold...

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Gee, you make cold weather sound so... so... appealing. (NOT!) Knowing how much body heat can be lost through the head, it always amazes me to see people in snowy movie scenes or participating in some kind of outdoor activity in extreme cold weather... with bare heads. Not to mention no gloves. They must be of a much hardier stock than I. 'Course, that's not saying much.

Silliyak said...

I'm thinking about towards the end of the movie Fargo, when Francis McDormand says (in a sea of white outside) "And here it's a beautiful day...)

Joanna Jenkins said...

Good lord!!!! And you still love there?!? EIGHT degrees. OMG!

Stay warm.
xoxo jj

The Elephant's Child said...

Thank you Pearl - as we move firmly into permanent perspiration season I love to hear that someone, somewhere is experiencing chilly weather. Which at least you can dress for. If you have taken off all you decently can (or even if you have gone further than that) and you are still too hot, misery sets in. Or it does for me.

Rose L said...

Those people who go naked out in the snow for fun must have had their brains frozen!!!!
I cannot imagine climbing inside an ox.

Roses said...

Um...we've got nearly half an inch of snow outside and I'm pretty sure it's almost -1'C and I don't want to go to work.

I'm too much of wimp for your part of the world.

Ugh.

esbboston said...

I wonder what an Eskimo would think of your story. Then I imagine an Eskimo family moving to south Texas and a father-daughter talk happening just like yours, only Heat is The Enemy.

jeanie said...

I can't even begin to imagine that cold. My brain freezes once we hit single digits celcius. Right now it is about 22 C and there is a gale blowing, so I put on my winter dressing gown because I am that wussy.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

So glad it does not get that cold around here, especially since we don't have any oxen wandering around here.

Jen said...

It's true. Cold hurts. It's really impossible to imagine unless you've experienced it. We live in the tropics now, and it's really hard to describe to people what cold feels like.

This reminds me of the very gruesome story, To Build A Fire, by Jack London. Whatever you do, don't read it!

SparkleFarkel said...

Gruesome as it sounds, I actually would like to experience that live-inside-an-ox deal. At least pay a short visit to a situation like that. Sounds like something Pa Ingalls might have suggested to Caroline at one time or another. Perhaps before the girls were born. Possibly as a honeymoon getaway? We'll never really know, will we? Charles never struck me as one who would kiss and tell. Party pooper, that Caroline. I mean, who would pass up a chance to spend the night with Michael "But you can call me 'Lil Joe'" Landon?

the walking man said...

February, North Atlantic -17 ship moving at 15 knots and we had to stand outside for some dead chief who in his will wanted a full burial at sea. Of course he had to die in January. Any Idea how long a full service burial at sea takes? In -17 temperatures while traveling at 15 knots...about 1.3 minutes.

Mitchell is Moving said...

This is so funny and so perfectly told. I can hear my South Dakota father-in-law telling a story in just the same way (probably the same story)!

The first Christmas I ever spent in South Dakota, the windchill was -81F. No kidding. I died. (OK, I didn't die... But that's how it happens, I'll bet.)

JJ said...

Terrific blog. I am your newest follwer, and I invite you to join my blog as well.

Jenny Woolf said...

Having just read the post above, I thought your dad was going to turn out to be one of the living dead, come back to haunt you for many years.

Maybe I have an over active imagination too.