And you thought winter was over.
Almost, but until then here are some final thoughts …
Over the decades our local meteorologists have honed a certain kind of winter news story into an art form. Any born-and-raised Minnesotan (of a certain age) knows the anticipation of that day-of-days — the “Snow Day.”
What an intense moment it was when, with heads pressed against our radio, we listened to the holy grail of our childhood — the list of school closings — read by an exuberant broadcaster who seemed as excited as we were.
“St Agnes School. Closed! St. Anthony Schools. Closed! St. Bonaventure School. Closed! St. Charles Schools. Closed!”
“Come on, come on. Just say it,” I would whisper.
“St. Cloud Public Schools. Closed!”
And then … “St. Louis Park Schools. Closed!”
Once, after Dad had witnessed my jubilation, I caught him rolling his eyes and sharing a knowing grin with my mother.
Of course, nowadays the electricity of that moment isn’t quite as jolting. The internet spreads the word of school closings more efficiently, though certainly in less dramatic fashion.
Me? I’ll always remember the WCCO broadcaster’s voice speaking directly to me, practically ordering my sister and me to stay home and play, play, play!
We’re proud of our winter hardiness here in Minnesota. Many of us grew up admiring our neighbors’ meticulously groomed sidewalks (and maybe we felt judged by them). We admired how dads manned their shovels dutifully after a snowfall. We admired how adults confronted the elements with fortitude, comradeship and ingenuity when called upon to extricate their cars from snowbanks, remove ice from their rooftops or thaw out all things that moved.
Before the Metrodome opened in 1982, Minnesota dads would teach the tried-and-true ways of keeping warm during Gophers and Vikings football games at Memorial Stadium and the Met. My dad brought 12-inch stacks of newspaper to place under our feet — “newspaper is the best insulator,” he would say — along with cigars and his flask of what he called “coco.”
Layering clothing was a science. Yet Dad never wore a hat, before and after ’63. I think that’s because John F. Kennedy never wore one, and Dad loved JFK.
Our parents taught us how to complain about the cold and snow with a subtle, self-congratulatory air:
“Had to shovel three times to keep up.”
“When I was your age we walked …”
“We slept in our coats and put on more blankets. Kept our heating bill down that way.”
Now I watch the shadows of moonlit skaters on our lakes while listening to their muffled voices and the soft scraping of their ice skates. It’s certainly more melodic than the cacophony of Minnesota’s summer screeching. It seemed the winter sounds travel farther across the still lakes, dissipating into the darkness of who-knows-where. What follows is the welcome silence and solitude that we need more than ever these days.
There was a time when I was mighty pleased to take a hiatus from winter’s headaches. I longed for escape to more tolerable climates, where mentions of dangerous ice, biting winds, fishtailing cars, dead batteries, herniated discs, sandpaper skin, impound lots and mountains of snow brought only unblinking, ignorant expressions on the natives’ faces.
Arizona was the first stop along the way. My most vivid recollection of their “winter” is the humongous Santa Claus cardboard cutouts mounted high on street lamps, sporting cherry red Bermuda shorts with “six-shooters” lodged in huge leather-looking holsters, or pointed toward the cloudless blue sky. It looked like old Sheriff Kringle was shouting “Yahoo!” instead of “To all a good night!”
So odd and as far removed from a Minnesota winter as I thought you could get.
Until I moved to Oregon. Imagine December fog settling in almost every day, dispiriting clouds hanging low, dampness enveloping the dull green landscape.
One winter a rare snowfall dusted the landscape, a pretty lame attempt at winter if you ask me. I was alone at the time and actually became teary-eyed. It made me ache for a Minnesota winter, flaws and all.
Next up, Brooklyn, N.Y. If you haven’t experienced a Brooklyn winter, I assure you they are very ornery. Sure, moments of winter splendor would surprise us. When it snowed in Brooklyn, you had a four-hour window in which to frolic in a quasi-winter wonderland before its transformation into a world of grime and slush. That did it for me.
Full circle back to Minnesota. The prodigal son returned, more appreciative than ever of winter’s lovely side.
But I found winter was less welcoming than expected, my older self less willing and able to enjoy and tolerate the frigid temps. Shoveling and even snowblowing were now risky activities, not the invigorating workouts they once had been.
The art of layering cottons, fleece and wool became less effective in easing my stiff joints. Winter seemed more in line with Robert Byrne’s idea that “Winter is Nature’s way of saying, ‘Up yours.’ ”
The coup de grace was the year I picked to return: 1991. Remember the Halloween Blizzard?
I still watch with bemusement the recycled segments on TV news about how to avoid frostbite, shoveling safely or how to dress the kids “for the bus stop.”
I admit to feeling a kind of misplaced sense of victory when “we” break the record for snowfall or low temperature. I admit to just a bit of schadenfreude when a TV reporter snares a car owner for a sound-bite interview at the impound lot after a snow emergency. And I admit, I still tune in to WCCO on wintry mornings with a weird hope that my alma mater will be among the list of school closings. I’m thrilled when it’s announced and bummed when it isn’t.
Minnesota Winter is in my blood. It’s who I am. I may not always like it, but I’ll always love it — and need it.
Dick Schwartz lives in Minneapolis.