Weather It Is Better/Written December 2000
| We are taught as children that the sun comes up in the East and sets in the West, but in December anyone driving south in the early morning or late afternoon will know that is a lie. The sun moves, and like a pool shark, plays the angles. Even at one-thirty in the afternoon, Old Sol will slant in the top of the windshield, forcing lowering of the visor. In our house, rays invade places that are untanned the rest of the year. They rake the couch and the kitchen cabinets above the counter. In their journey down the sofa, they keep a set schedule so that one can tell time by their arrival.
It is twelve degrees here at six-thirty this morning. Light has just reached this part of the world. The sun is a rumor hiding behind Chatham, over the hill to the southeast. The dog does not want to wait for the sun. She is excited about her first trip outside. If my wife hadn't decided she needed more electric blanket time, she would be sitting in her chair telling me 'she needs to tinkle, she's desperate.' This is a lie, as I shall soon reveal.
I must choose the Uniform Of The Day for this first dog walk carefully. I don the bottom half of thermal underwear, sweatpants, a sweatshirt, socks, old shoes, a turtleneck collar which has some form of padding, and for the first time this season, the Great Winter Coat to which I attach a hood.
The coat dates from 1987 or so, when my wife claims my daughter picked it out at the hospital thrift shop in Pennsylvania. This was the place where doctors were thought to donate their barely worn clothes. Now that HMOs have reportedly cut doctors' wallets down to size, such bargains are gone, unless anyone knows a thrift shop run by the local HMO.
The coat keeps marching on. As does the Andean wool sweater my wife gave me seven or eight years ago. She acquired it in some complicated business transaction that did not include tins of sardines but is best not talked about. The sweater sleeps most of the year in a drawer; it comes out when the temperature is below zero. Unless I desire to audition to play Quasimodo, its weight precludes me wearing it for more than thirty minutes at a time.
As I step outside, two questions reverberate through my head: Can I get up if I fall, and, what am I going to do when it really gets cold? The answer to the second is simple: add another layer while holding the Andean sweater in reserve. This is pure Clauswitz; my friend Maralyn quoted him the other day and if he is good enough for Maralyn, he's good enough for me. As for falling, I have confidence that the ship that carries me cannot sink.
The dog, far from tinkling, sniffs the ground, which shows the effect of a snow shower in the night. Finding a good spot, she folds her legs and rolls onto her back, and rubs herself, as if the cold grass and snow smatterings were a fluffy towel. Legs thrusting this way and that, she is in heaven and all's right in her world.
I expect this. Winter, spring, summer, fall she does it. She will follow up by getting up and running around the side of the house, hoping to chase a rabbit into the trees. She saw her last one back in September, but she does not believe in calendars. Not finding prey, she sniffs some more. She's fascinated over spots she peed on the day before. She is living proof that the fox does NOT know her own hole. We stay out fifteen or twenty minutes, surveying the whole back forty for signs of deer.
Weather has never been a deterrent in life. My kind knows no season; it is an inherited trait. Winter's cold or summer's sun found my father doing his chores outside. For the cold, he believed in those funny caps you see on old men, the kind with a bill and ear flaps; to keep cool in summer he wore white ribbed tank tops, except that we did not call them 'tank tops' back then. They were known by a name that insulted an ethnic group of which I am a half-member, and which would be terribly un-PC today.
My father did not believe in air conditioners. He preferred the fan. Dad prized a breeze. It could be ninety-eight, with seventy percent humidity, but Dad would say, 'there's a good breeze coming in the side window.' Cold would bring out the story of his cousin Freddy playing his trombone in the parade on New Year's Day the year the instruments froze. That we had heard the tale a thousand times before did not matter to him. His telling of it again would mark the winter equinox.
I carry on his traditions best I can, making you suffer through these accounts. Whether I have adopted his long view of history I do not know, but I remember one particularly hot evening back about 1984 when his seventy-ish neighbor called out to him in a loud voice, "DANNY, HAVE YOU EVER SEEN WEATHER LIKE THIS?" Dad could never yell, but he said firmly, "Well, Austin, I'm seventy-eight years old and I imagine in my time I've seen weather like this."
This marks the ninety-first time I have told this story. It carried me over the bridge of the century and will continue to do so until the ice age comes again.
Valatie NY 12/06/00