The way winter was
Jan. 27, 2014
by Ivan Raconteur

Winter seems to be much more dramatic than it used to be, not because the seasons have become harder, but because we have become softer.

This occurred to me while I was watching the latest round of school closings and delays – all because there was a slight nip in the air.

If I scoff at the notion of shutting down the state every time it gets a bit brisk outdoors, it is because I grew up in a time when Minnesotans were a more resilient lot.

Back then, we would just be getting out our winter coats when the mercury dropped to the levels we have seen recently.

In my younger days in Duluth, it would never have occurred to us to abandon our normal activities just because the witch of winter began to blow a frosty breeze down our shirt collars. We would wrap a wool scarf around our necks, pull our hats down over our ears, and get on with it.

Perhaps we were better about dressing for prevailing conditions back then.

Everyone owned wool socks, thermal drawers, warm boots, and at least one good pair of gloves or mittens.

We were prepared for cooler weather, because it came around every year about the same time, and we knew we were going to have to go out and get on with business.

Today, it seems like every time the air gets a bit crisp or a few fluffy flakes begin to fall, people are flabbergasted and act as if they don’t know what to do about it.

Television newscasts provide wall-to-wall coverage of road and weather conditions, and encourage people to hunker down in their homes until April for their own safety.

There are still some people who dress appropriately and don’t let winter stand in their way, but much of the population seems inclined to wave a white flag of defeat at the first sign of frost.

When I was younger, people worked and played and went about their routines. Transportation was a more vigorous and lively undertaking, and we walked a lot of places, regardless of the season.

Even when we travelled by car, there were few guarantees.

Few of us had garages back then, and parking outdoors with the wind howling off the tundra meant starting a car was far from a certainty.

Indoor parking has taken some of the adventure out of driving.

Back then, the luckier ones among us had elaborate systems of orange extension cords stretching from our homes to our vehicles so we could plug in the block heaters which were designed to keep engine oil in more of a liquid, rather than solid state so there was a chance the engine might turn over, provided the battery hadn’t expired since the time we parked.

Even if we somehow managed to get the car started through some combination of luck, flammable fluids, and bad language, there was still no guarantee we would reach our destination.

In those days, nearly all of our cars were rear-wheel drive, which made forcing a heavy vehicle (they were still made of steel back then) up a slippery slope in downtown Duluth a challenge.

It was a matter of defying physics, especially if one’s tires were a bit worn.

Most of the time we managed OK, but if we were unlucky enough to get stopped at a traffic light at the top of a hill during a sleet storm, there was always a chance one might have to back carefully down the block, usually with next to zero visibility, and attack the problem from another angle.

People didn’t stay home when it snowed, either.

It was common for cars to get hung up in waist-deep drifts.

When that happened, other motorists would pile out of their vehicles to help push, and nearby residents would lend a hand, and everyone generally managed to get where they were going.

I miss those days.

As much as I hate to admit it, I have caught myself complaining about the weather recently, which would have occasioned great shame and consternation to the younger me.

I yearn for the days when winter was an adventure we got through together, rather than retreating to our individual lairs like wounded animals to await the warmth of spring.

We used to throw back our heads and laugh at the winter wind and dance in the snow. We rejoiced in our ability to overcome adversity, and we looked down our noses at those in more temperate climates who didn’t have things as good as we did.

Minnesota winters keep out the riff-raff, we said, and we meant it.

Winter hasn’t changed much, but perhaps we have, and not for the better.

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