Sunday, February 11, 2007

How Cold Is It? Check for Chilblains

Even now that we've seen our first day above 20º F. in a few weeks (hey, it got up to 42º here!), Rick Moran, over at RightWing NutHouse is a bit chilled, this winter, and wonders what people used to do long, long ago to amuse themselves when they were shut in during the deep of winter.

I know what my mom used to do, only a decade or so ago.

We worked together at the world's largest outdoor museum. We were hired on the same day, trained in the same class, and often worked the precise same schedule (that was rare, for any two people, back then. I have no idea how it works now, since they've had what seem to be biennial management upheavals). We also often worked the same sites with the same people (also rare, considering how many are employed by the Foundation).

There was one young man in particular who had ... limited life experience, shall we say? He was in his mid-twenties, and may just have been the man to send shopping for sky hooks and left-handed paintbrushes. This young man used to come to work on mornings when the temperature dipped below 58º F. crying out how bitterly cold it was out there.

Mom, being the sort of person she is, would turn to him and say, "That's not cold! You don't know what cold is!" Then she would proceed to tell him about the time (1978 or '79, I think) when she was coming back from the East Coast by train, came through Chicago's Union Station, boarded the train for that last leg of the ride home (toward Galesburg, IL). The train pulled out of the station, and then just sat there. With the heat going full power, the car was a balmy 36º, according to one passenger. Mom had a blanket, plus she was dressed for winter, but it got right nippy, as they say.

They sat there, just outside Union Station, for six hours (she emphasized this miserable wait). The conductor finally came on the public address system to announce that they were going to be there a while longer, since the minus 32º (with wind chill bringing it down to minus 64º) arctic blast had frozen the switches in the rail yards, and they'd had to bring out crews with blowtorches to thaw the switches out before anybody could go anywhere.

So, Mom would recount this tale, every time the young man complained of the cold in Tidewater, Virginia. And the young man would always respond with, "Oh, Mrs. K., you always tell that story!" and Mom would always respond to him, "That's right, dear. Every time you complain about the cold...."

I'm not sure he ever quite figured out how much Mom was yanking his chain.

But it was darned cold that year. I think that was the year I learned the language of temperature.

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