I remember last year, when I was in seventh grade, Mary Ruth and I got lucky on one of those way-below-zero days and got a ride to school after only walking about four or five blocks.
People always say when we’re out in weather like that, “What are you girls doing? Don’t you have enough sense to stay out of this cold?”
And we lie. We say something like, “Oh, we didn’t know it would be this bad.” We don’t say, “Mommy’s car is in the garage, but she won’t ever use it to take us to school. She thinks it would make us lazy, and besides it would waste gas and cause unnecessary wear and tear on the car, even though she’ll drive fifteen miles to buy day-old bread.”
That cold, cold afternoon though, Mary Ruth and I weren’t so lucky. We stayed after school to work on our school paper. By the time we walked out of the building, bundled up as much as we could be—our coats buttoned up tight, hats down as far as possible, scarves wrapped around our faces, leaving only a narrow strip for our eyes—there were no cars on the road. Everybody was inside, hiding from the bitter wind.
Even through my scarf, facing the wind, it hurt to breathe. It was so, so cold that Mary Ruth and I sometimes huddled in an alley at a garage door, thinking it might help us a little bit to be out of the wind, but it didn’t help because it was so cold it was like the air was eating us alive. So we pressed on, and somehow we made it home. We had numb toes and fingers.
Kathy too. She’d walked to and from high school alone. It wasn’t as far as the junior high school, but it was far enough to make a red ring with blisters on it where her boots had rubbed against her socks. We all had them. Mommy saw us huddling there by the heater vent in the hallway and said, “I don’t know what you’re carrying on so much for. Why when I was three years old my stepfather made me walk from one farm to another in Wisconsin in only a cotton dress and in my bare feet. This is nothing. It’s good for you, makes you stronger.”
She does think cold is good for us. She opens our bedroom windows about an inch in the winter after we’ve fallen asleep. Then, when she yanks our covers off to wake us up in the morning, it’s so cold in the room I can see my breath in the air. But she won’t let us close the windows or open the heat vent in our room. We have to get up fast and wince as our bare feet hit the cold tile floor. A lot of times we wake up with sore throats. If we complain she says, “Fresh air is good for you. Stop carrying on. If you don’t like it, go live someplace where you think they’ll treat you better.”
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