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Friday, December 6, 2013

Next Thing You Know -- WHAM! -- Yer Toes Are Black

I spent some of the week working on another piece -- a departure for me -- that I've submitted elsewhere.  If it's accepted, I'll let you know where it is -- if it's not, I'll post it here.  :-)  In the meantime, the temperature at the bus stop this morning was 18 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit.

Brrrrr.  Please enjoy this re-post from December of 2012 when it was, apparently, much warmer at 8 above zero, Fahrenheit.


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.”

The kitchen goes quiet.

“So then 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.”

27 comments:

joeh said...

Love it!

I'm guessing he was lucky enough to find an ox.

Pearl said...

joeh, we always kept an ox when I was a child, just in case... :-)

HOOTIN ANNI said...

Great story teller your father is...and it runs in the family. You too can regale a tale worth reading.

My brother in law's father froze to death. Sad sad, and to have him tell how they found his body in the snowbank in Telluride CO with tears streaming down his cheeks makes it even MORE sad.

Diane Tolley said...

But where's that ox when you need it?

Pearl said...

Hootin Anni, a horrible way to go. I think of the people that find themselves without shelter in this kind of weather... It's just so casually, off-handedly brutal. Poor guy.

Diane, silly City of Minneapolis. "No ox" policy. Pfft.

Sioux said...

But if you FIND a body, frozen dead in the snow, that makes for some good eatin'.

(Just kidding. Really.)

Delores said...

Your dad tells some great stories.

Launna said...

Wow... that is cold... my David is in upper Alberta and the get -50 in the winter a lot... that sounds nasty :-)

jenny_o said...

Wow, Pearl, you ARE having a cold spell. Put on extra clothes and cats and stay warm. You might even want to put extra clothes ON the cats, so they can stay warm too.

fishducky said...

I think it was AmEx whose slogan was, "Don't leave home without your ox"!!

Elephant's Child said...

Good luck with your other piece. I am looking forward to it - where-ever it lands.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Fingers crossed on your submission!

Joanne Noragon said...

It was as cold this morning in Minnesota as it will be tomorrow morning in Ohio. I love using Minnesota to illustrate one more degree of latitude. And, I hate winter.

Daisy said...

It's cold even here on Vancouver Island! Went to walk with the dog an we both had to look for an ox.

Take care Pearl, don't want your toes to fall off.

Silliyak said...

I think the original tale was killing an "ex" and climbing inside. Things get changed over time due to people's sensitivities.

Jenny Woolf said...

I was in thirty below once and thought that was bad enough. The ink froze in my pen but at least the blood did not freeze in my veins. Your dad tells a good story.

Daisy said...

I think you may get some of your storytelling talent from your dad! :-)

The Geezers said...

My favorite thing about our MInneapolis weather is, if you put your keys in your mouth after they've been in the ignition for a while, they've absorbed so much cold that they'll pull the skin from your lips.

Sigh. Looking out there this morning, I honestly don't know why we're not all moving to New Mexico.

BLissed-Out Grandma said...

We moved from St. Paul to Hibbing 65 years ago, and one morning that first winter it was 54 degrees below zero. And this was before they calculated wind chill. The schools did not close, but my mother said I was not walking the four blocks. My friend Dawn Marie, who lived two doors away, stopped for me as always, but my mother told her to go back home. She didn't dare, so my mom called and told her aunt she was sending Dawn back home. So we didn't get black toes that day.

Jono said...

In this end of the state it gets even worse. I swear I've seen icicles shivering!

Eva Gallant said...

I don't know if I could bring myself to crawl inside that ox.....hope I never have to find out!

Linda O'Connell said...

Lived in that brutal cold in Alaska. My spoken words exhaled in a frozen little cloud.

Simply Suthern said...

Must really suck to be an OX in MN.

Jayne Martin said...

We hear in California cannot contemplate you who live in such inhospitable environs. We think you must be of some kind of mutant species. We think anything under 50 degrees is pure torture. We are weather weenies.

HermanTurnip said...

Ah, your father. Ever the optimist! ;-)

the walking man said...

Ever been to Sea in Feb. in the North Atlantic at 17 below being forced to stand at attention while some wish of dead chief to be buried at sea is fulfilled? I think the Cap'n of the vessel cut about 5 pages out of the ceremony.

Geo. said...

"I think about it. I nod solemnly."
Pearl, thinking about 50-below can make a person permanently solemn. Stop it.