There are two kinds of little old ladies in Valier: the kind who dreads wind and the kind who dreads cold. (Of course, we all dread ice underfoot and the threat of broken hips.) Hardly anyone dislikes neither and many people of every age and gender dislike both. Personally, I don’t mind wind, but I’ve come to hate extreme cold. I’m not talkin’ zero -- I’m talkin’ SUBzero. The kind of cold that leaves white coin dots on your cheekbones and makes your fingers numb.
When I was young I hardly cared and zipped around with no jacket (for short distances) and bedroom slippers for sprints to the foundry or shop. (Of course, they were often Bob’s bedroom slippers, which his mother bought for him. Substantial wool objects with a zipper up the front and a hard sole.) Out to the woodpile, no prob. Rarely any gloves either. The Sixties were the era of the mini-skirt and a couple of the senior girls froze their thighs. No one could decide whether that was reckless, brave, or maybe (ahem) erotic. “Oh, let me rub your limbs, dear! Warm you up!”
My best winter footware in those days was felt liners inside four-buckle galoshes, which I never buckled because I liked to go clashing and jingling along through the deep snow we used to have in those days. Old-time Indian cowboys would stop me on the street and make me buckle up, lest I fall flat on my face when the buckles caught on each other. In those days they neither loved nor hated white people -- they just tried to take care of everyone.
Today it was zero when I got up at 6AM and the ground was bare. After I read the paper and went back to sleep, I re-woke at 9AM and knew by the light -- muted and matte white -- that there was snow. Now -- late afternoon -- the temp is up to ten above and the sky has cleared so that the light has changed again. Now it’s bright, striped gold and blue. Just now I went out to sweep my sidewalks -- in my slippers, no gloves. Not that cold if one keeps moving.
Everything is very still, so that even this very dry light snow is staying balanced on the twigs. It’s easy to swish the snow-dust off the sidewalk, which is cold enough these days that it stays dry. The only problem is where people have stepped, crushing the snow into a felty cake that wants to resist the bristles. Someone insists on walking down my sidewalk, no matter what state it’s in. There’s only one other residence -- Loretta next door -- and she goes in and out the alley, ignoring her sidewalk in front. The rest of the block is mostly the Baptist church which clears the walks for Sunday only.
Alongside the house, where I swept earlier, some of the dry snow has already sublimated, been absorbed into the even drier air. The humidity in the house, where I’ve been washing dishes and boiling things, is 30%. Our precipitation, which was far above normal early in the year, has fallen to “trace.” Doorknobs don’t sting with a static discharge because this is an old-fashioned house with rugs instead of carpets and no electrically propelled heat.
My furnace is under the floor and works by convection. It’s great to stand on, except that the “modern” grille over the top is fairly fragile and costs $400. The directions say not to install it in a doorway, but that’s exactly where it is, so traffic beats it up. I try to remember to leap over it and guests following me through the house take my example, so we look like sheep or goats, imitating the leader.
The thing I dread the most about the cold is not the cold itself -- thanks to fleece, down, and electric bedding, I can cope pretty well. It’s the money. The cost of natural gas, piped, is supposed to be less this year than last, but my heat bill is double or triple in winter. The gas company was released from regulation a few years ago which has turned out to be a HUGE mistake. An international corporation from Australia is trying to buy it at the moment. I’m sure they’re not looking for a nonprofit investment.
In another of those “help the poor and the old” gestures that only use those categories to subsidize international corporations, one can apply for help with heating costs. I’ve applied for three years straight and been turned down each time, even though the people in the office helped me with the application and assured me that I qualified. This year the application form is much longer and includes the demand that one permit access to all records: financial, medical, employment, assistance, and so on -- plus the entire year’s bank statements.
There is an assurance of confidentially. I’ve learned from bitter experience that nothing NOTHING on the county level is ever confidential. Or impartial. The demonstrations and scandal over Bob Scriver’s sale of his artifact collection was propelled by the “confidential” list of the values (a MILLION DOLLARS!!! CANUBELIEVEIT???) that the white local insurance businessman maliciously leaked to NA political opportunists. He thought it was funny to see Bob, the “Indian lover,” attacked like that.
The most profound cold comes in the night. The house begins to pop and creak. Both cats want under the covers and as close as they can get. Usually it has cleared and stars stab the blackness. Aurora Borealis may wave her veils, but who can stand out there to watch? Our porch lights are less alluring but more reassuring, although if it gets cold enough the lightbulb in my “jam jar” fixture explodes.
When it’s so cold, little old ladies can’t sleep and prowl from one window to another. They might read or turn the radio on low. I don’t need to worry about an electricity blackout shutting down my heat, but others do. The people with hot water heat are at most risk. Who might be out there in the cold? Is that a dog howling? When the county snowplows can be heard far away, grinding and scraping, it’s time to sleep. Now they’ll watch for trouble.