Cold in Minnesota is isolating and feels like it lasts forever. Once I thought about all the ways that snow costs money to explain to people who weren’t from here. There’s the rock salt, the snow tires, the car washes, the boots, the cold medicine, the shovels, wool socks, and turning over your entire wardrobe twice a year. Maybe someday I’ll make a spreadsheet of all the things you have to buy and make a proposal to the federal government to pay a snow stipend to citizens of all the states in the Midwest, proportioned out per capita based on inches of snow per year.
I was walking out of the gym, sweaty, and my massive coat was too hot so I wore it unzipped and thought about how nice it feels to be cold sometimes. There are things I’ll miss about the cold when it’s gone, and writing this will keep the words unchanged for when it becomes summer again and I can’t remember them. Cold gives you a whole new repertoire of meals to cook, it’s when you put cream of mushroom soup and potatoes in your cart at the store again to make hot dishes and keep cinnamon in the cupboard for tea and hot cocoa. Cold is a reprieve from so many of the nuisances of female grooming and you can let your hairy legs, pale skin, and toenails with chipped polish rest under a blanket of huge, soft clothes.
I love my childhood memories of cold. When I think about what it means to grow up here I think of cold. I love the smell of winter cold air, when it’s not too dry to make your nose bleed. I remember when it was winter and I’d open my bedroom window and the snow makes such as quiet stillness at night, the cold air would draft in and I’d burrow in blankets. I remember hearing that igloos were warm inside and working for hours in the yard to make one, but it kept collapsing. My parents have pictures of all the snow sculptures we made, snowman families and once a giant rabbit. Some people who live a few blocks from me now built a very realistic Totoro in their front yard after one of the April snows last year and it was fantastic.
Of course these are memories of privilege and people who don’t have the means can get hurt or die in the cold. I went to college in a small town and I remember someone died in the middle of the night when walking home from the bar because she passed out in a snowbank. The scariest thing I can think of would be to slip through a hole in the ice on a frozen lake and not be able to find my way back up for air. Once I got lost while I was walking home from a bar alone and called every friend in my phone until my friend Greg picked up and I described my surroundings to him while he looked up my location on Google Maps to guide me home. This was before everyone had a smartphone. My friend Tara saw me one day when I was walking to class, she was in her car and she picked me up just because it was cold. I wonder if people who live in hot places have ways that those kinds of considerations for other people becomes universal like we do in the cold.
I was broke after college and working multiple jobs (thanks, recession!). I didn’t have a car and I’d take the bus between them. Our busing is terrible so I had to take transfers from place to place and stop downtown. There was an old Macy’s (now closed) that had a door open to the street near the stop and everyone who waited for the bus would huddle in there to be in the heated store instead of the windy street. The older people would sit down inside the store and a couple of people would stand watch and let everyone else know when the bus was on its way so we could get out in time. One of my neighbors when I was a kid would have his mom drive up to the bus stop and he’d wait in her van until the bus came. I thought he was so spoiled. My friends from 2 houses down were 3 sisters from Hawaii and they all had names full of vowels and beautiful wavy black hair. One day it was so freezing the spoiled kid’s mom let us in the van too. One of the Hawaiian girls just yelled, “WARM!!” before jumping inside. I feel like anyone who lives here knows that feeling of utter joy when you get warm.
When I was in college, I lived in this horrible house that was so run down we had only space heaters for heat. It was so cold one winter that I wore my hat and gloves to bed. I’d run from my bed to the bathroom, wearing all my blankets to turn on the space heater in the bathroom and go back to bed to wait for it to warm up in there. When we all went home for Christmas that year, someone turned the heat way down to save money and our toilet water literally froze. We all brought food from our respective homes from our parents’ runs to Costco or Sam’s Club and there wasn’t enough room in the fridge for all of it, so one of us had the bright idea to dig a hole in a snowbank outside and bury it in there. Not even a week later we found frozen tater tots and chicken tenders strewn all over the frozen yard because raccoons had gotten into it. That house was so awful, there was some mysterious brown goop that leaked from the ceiling and our landlord never fixed it, they just gave us a discount on our already dirt-cheap rent. Nobody in that town pays more than $400 a month for rent, and for a house like that you’re paying like $120 for a room.
I used to accompany our French Club to an annual trip to Winnepeg in Manitoba for the Festival du Voyageur, a winter carnival-esque festival that celebrated the Canadian history of the fur trade. Aside from the obvious excitement of driving to another country where the drinking age is 18, it was a great way to practice French as a beginning speaker since basically everyone at the Festival was bilingual. You could screw up your French and the friendly Francophone Canadians would help you out with the word in English. They always have these fantastic snow sculptures and they make maple candy by freezing it on a piece of clean snow. You can drink wine from ice glasses and there are cabins where people sing old French songs wearing blankets and furs. I went there with a friend a few years ago and ran into my French professor and the latest group of students and was so glad the trip lives on. My friend and I ran into a guy who’d hidden a bottle of whiskey by burying it in a hole in the festival grounds weeks before the festival started and then digging it up when he got into the festival so he wouldn’t have to pay their marked-up prices on alcohol inside.
I love animals and you never know how many animals live in your neighborhood until it snows. When I walk out to my car in the morning to go to work I check out all the different tracks and identify who visited us in the night. Bunny tracks with the big feet on the sides and two little round spots for the front feet, sometimes several feet apart from long hops. Raccoons leave 5-finger prints with their little monkey-like hands, and clusters of prints from cats, dogs, squirrels, and the occasional possum are co-mingled, making it hard to tell who went where.
I’ll never fully endorse the cold but when I talk to people who don’t understand it, like any Minnesotan I invent some false pride about surviving it. Working in France, when it was zero degrees (Celcius, so like 32 Farenheit) the teachers would keep the kids inside for recess. They’d yell with panic in their voices when a kid was dawdling outside without a coat, “Il fait moins zero!” (It’s below zero!) like there was a saber-tooth tiger behind them. They laughed at how I took off my sweater when entering the (in my opinion) overly-heated room. I felt like a strange giant there, a few inches and many pounds larger than most of my colleagues, even some of the men, and several shades paler and blonder. I hated that when I walked around people knew I was foreign just by looking at me and would yell things out.
I never saw the point of people who would get rid of their accent or pretend to be from a different city than where they were born. There’s a notorious phenomenon where people pretend to be from the nearest large city, saying they’re from Chicago when they’re from Evanston or Minneapolis when their home is actually Chanhassen. My friend calls it “Chan-happenin”. You are who you are and you’re from where you’re from. Find the good in that and build from it.