By Joe Rector
Weather during Christmas 2015 was wet, but the temperatures were warm, so much so that I wondered if we were actually someplace much closer to the Florida coast. However, winter showed its ugly teeth this past week and reminded us that it still has plenty of time to make life miserable before spring comes.
The truth of the matter is that I don’t deal with winter all that well. My feet and hands become icicles that never quite warm up. My knees and ankles ache, and my back throbs when the frigid winds blow. I suppose I’m so thin-skinned that cold weather adversely affects it. That’s not the way things used to be.
When I was a boy, cold weather didn’t bother me at all. Daddy put a basketball goal on the trunk of a pine tree. Jim and I would come home and spend hours on that muddy court as we worked on shots, played games of HORSE, or took on each other in one-on-one games. Our hands were black from the dirt that had been mixed with truckloads wood mulch from Southern Extract, the paper plant where Daddy worked. The wind chapped our faces and numbed our hands, but we didn’t care.
Some afternoons, a gang of boys came to our house, and we played games of football in the yard. We’d tackle and block and fight. Every so often, one of us would yelp or even cry as red, cold body parts received hits that were too hard. We also dodged puddles that formed from recent showers, or at least we tried to dodge them. When one boy splashed into the water, he jumped up quickly slung the water from his arms and legs, and nodded for the game to continue.
Maybe my memories are fuzzy, but I seem to recall much more snow during those winters. We’d wake up to discover the ground was covered in white and school had been cancelled. After putting on layers clothes, we were almost as unable to move as the little brother in “Christmas Story.” Not a pair of boots or gloves could be found. Instead, we put on a couple of pairs of socks over old shoes, and then Mother would give us plastic bags which at one time held loaves of bread. Sometimes socks on our hands; yes, I know those were the wrong body parts for them. The rest of the time, hands were shoved them into pockets until the time to make snowballs or snow men arrived.
We boys tromped around the yard and into the woods. Before long, we’d wind our ways to the pond on the Long’s property. Frozen from the frigid temperatures, we’d slip out onto the ice to practice a crude form of skating. Every one of us knew that at some point someone would hit a thin patch and drop into the water. That’s when the gang high-tailed it home to warm up and get a snack. At night, we’d go back outside for a second or third round of play, but working the snow became more difficult as plunging temperatures created an icy crust on it. The only effect from the cold was red fingers and toes and runny noses.
Those were good times when the excitement in life and the never-ending supply of energy kept winter from running boys inside. Now, I make quick trips outside and return to the warm, comfortable areas of home. In the closet are several coats and pairs of gloves, all with special products that keep the cold out. They just don’t work that well. My feet and hands still freeze, and the only way to thaw them is to jump into a hot shower. That’s not something any boy would ever want to do.
I’m living each day thankful for life and the things it offers. However, I keep an eye toward the months not too far away that will bring warmer temperatures. Then I can sit outside and, like a snake, let the sun penetrate my thin skin and warm my cold blood.