OK, I’ll admit it:
I adhere to a sort of code when it comes to weather: I try my best not to complain about the cold. Before I was born I apparently took two turns standing in line at the “hot-natured,’’ because I generally just feel better when the temperatures drop below 50 and keep going.
I save up the complaining about the weather for the heat of summer, and brother do I ever turn it loose then.
That said, I have noticed since I’ve shot past 50 the whole “relishing the cold’’ gift is a bit more challenging. I fear I may not have fully mastered the tactic that my father and forefathers employed when it came to life’s little challenges such as cold weather, unpleasant people and moonshine laws:
Mother, on the other hand, didn’t care one bit for cold a day in her life. In her advanced years she could never keep her feet warm and had a tendency to crank up the thermostat to the point that when you entered the house your glasses would immediately fog up.
One Christmas sister Connie had boiled some potatoes and had dumped the water in the sink by the kitchen door just as brother Howard showed up. I opened the back door to step out and a cloud of steam billowed out the back door.
Howard sat there behind the wheel, assuming that cloud was the heat of the house escaping. You could clearly tell he thought pretty hard about just putting the car in reverse and leaving, but he did eventually come on in.
Connie’s potato dish, like everything else cooked by the women of the Buchanan clan, was delicious.
Unlike Mother, I’m always hot, so it’s a lot easier to remember the coldest points in my life. On one bear hunt I didn’t bother to take gloves, worked up a sweat climbing a mountain in frigid conditions and found myself with my hands frozen to my rifle.
“Now this,” I thought to myself, picturing a bear waddling up to me essentially wearing the equivalent of handcuffs, “would be one stupid way to die.”
Another time I had chopped some wood, came in and took a drink of water from the faucet, and went back out to collect a load for the stove. It was cold enough that the water in my beard froze and a chunk of it snapped off.
I told everyone I had mange.
The coldest I can recall, though, was in 1985, when I was working in Cashiers. An Alberta Clipper rolled through the area, and I vaguely recall wind chills getting to -75. That figure started sounding more and more absurd the older I got, so I looked it up last week.
It was -34 on Mount Mitchell Jan. 21, 1985. Grandfather Mountain saw wind chills of -100.
Heck, Cashiers at -75 was downright balmy compared to that.
So against this backdrop a friend of mine in Cullowhee had vacated the clapboard house he was renting to go to the beach (where it was about 15 degrees), and it was up to me to feed his cats. The place had not even a sheet of paper for insulation and the power had failed, so naturally everything had frozen. The toilet had shattered. He’d left the faucet dripping, so at least there was water for the cats.
My friend loved his cats, and instead of dry food treated them to those big cans of cat food. I opened one and that goop slid out and landed on the floor with a thump like a frozen Yule log.
And like the scene in “A Christmas Story’’ where the kid takes up the dare to stick his tongue to a telephone pole, I had a cat hanging off each end of it.
I cannot describe the sound.
Luckily enough water was dribbling from the faucet to remedy the situation. The cats were fine. The toilet was replaced. Life went on.
Summer came, and it got hot.
I complained about it to anyone who would listen.
Buchanan is editor of The Sylva Herald.