The Cold, in Retrospect

It's cold today. The cold lives under our feet and creeps up through the floorboards of our ancient house. Every ten minutes or so the heater makes jet engine noises as it pushes warm air up into the rafters, far away from my frozen toes. I'm trying to think about warm things, tropical beaches, volcanoes, hot sauce, but it doesn't really help. So instead I've turned on the little space heater that's been sitting behind my door, put on the warm slippers I got for Christmas, and I am now sitting at my desk wrapped in a blanket. Is this what it's like in colder places, like Minnesota and North Dakota and Antarctica? Each time the penguins venture out of their little penguin-homes, do they shiver a little and say "It's cooold."? Cause that's what we do here in Texas. Do they shut down their penguin-streets completely, like Texans, and spend their days surfing weather.com to see if it will be cold again tomorrow? "I heard there might be ice on the roads tomorrow," they tell each other, "I wonder if they'll cancel penguin-school."

I have often said that I want to live somewhere colder. "Somewhere with seasons," I sometimes say. I still would, I think, like to try it out. But it's been sixteen years since I've lived in a place where people don't talk about "the snow flurries I saw that one Christmas, you know, I think it was 96." Being a six year old in Wisconsin is very different from being an adult. An adult must drive in the snow, and shovel the snow, and buy warm jackets. A six year old makes snow forts and can wear those once piece snow suits without fear of embarrassment and his biggest worry is avoiding the trees as he sleds down the hill. To a six year old, finding the little tin shelter by the school bus stop upside down and across the street after a particularly nasty winter storm is really cool. On the other hand, that might worry his mother. Also, this six year old, by the time he has become 25, has forgotten all about how much his face stung in the cold and the snow getting inside his boots and soaking his socks. (Well, I remember the wet sock thing...that really sucked).

It's no surprise that most things seem better in retrospect. This is how Wisconsin has become a kind of paradise in my head, populated by friendly six year olds who like to sled in the winter and catch frogs in the summer, where the leaves of the forest catch fire in the fall with orange and red and yellow and the winter is cold, but never uncomfortable. And there are gigantic toads the size of watermelons and tree frogs that stick their bright red toes to your screen door (Apparently there are a lot of frogs and toads in paradise. Well, I was six, what do you expect).

If I move away from Houston, I'll probably think of Houston fondly someday. I'll remember how mild the winters were and forget about the days it the thermometer read 108 and the mosquitoes had quick little cocktail parties on your arms and legs each time you stepped outside. Even today, a cold and stressful day, will be blurred into a time of growth and change in my life. And I'll remember how this old house had charming wooden floors and it wasn't too bad if you had a space heater.

But if I leave I won't forget the little inconveniences completely. I might remember the smog and the stress and not having a washer and dryer. And I probably won't move back.


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