When I arrived in Winona to attend the now-defunct College of Saint Teresa (no “h” please!), it was during one of the driest winters ever, and temperatures were relatively mild, although I didn’t know that at the time. Compared to Massachusetts, which is warmed and hydrated by the Jet Stream, I thought it was downright frigid.
There was a senior from Connecticut who wore a trench coat, open, all winter long. I found it mind-boggling. I was bundled up in everything I could get on, which was difficult, as we were required to wear skirts. Slacks were reserved for “bluff climbing,” and anyone wearing slacks off to a date with a Saint Mary’s guy to go “bluff climbing,” had to use the Baggage Entrance (one of the definitions of baggage happens to be “a contemptible woman”). Of course if we stayed on campus, which the nuns contrived to make us do, we didn’t have far to walk to anywhere we needed to go — the dorm, the library, the classrooms, and of course the chapel, to go to confession after “bluff climbing.”
It wasn’t unusual for our dorm rooms, however, to be hot as Hades, and in the coldest weather, you’d see the old double-hung windows cracked open in Lourdes Hall, and the heating plant — where Saint Mary’s Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts is now located — belching with steam.
The next winter, I was ready, I thought, but it was a record cold year, and the sound of hundreds of girls’ boots crunching on the frozen sidewalks was like fingernails on a blackboard to me. I tried to get my parents to let me transfer to a warmer climate, but that was the days when parents ruled, and the answer was “no.” The year after that, I had a boyfriend, and it didn’t seem so cold. Then senior year I met John, and the atmosphere was positively tropic.
As I write this, all those years later, I have on my winter armor, long ago realizing that people don’t really get used to below zero weather, they simply dress differently. Well, maybe my 99-year-old mother-in-law is used to it. You have to bribe her to wear a coat, and she just laughs at gloves, mittens, boots or hats.
One year we had Maria, a young woman from Costa Rica, visiting for several months. When she arrived, the day was unusually mild. As the weather does here in Minnesota, it became frigid nearly over night. We were all going out somewhere, and I realized Maria didn’t have a winter coat. She was a small girl, so I grabbed a coat one of the girls had grown out of. She was not impressed, thinking it a little young, or maybe too ratty for her, and said she didn’t need one. We stepped outside, and you’d think we had thrown her in Lake Winona. She gasped, and turned right around and grabbed the coat, as well as the hat and mittens we had laid out. Her very first purchase was a stylish winter coat from KMart, a favorite shopping place for all of our foreign exchange students.
I wear long underwear, top and bottom, lined boots, wool sweaters, and an old fur coat (muskrats were born to serve). If the wind picks up, I add a wool scarf and a wool hat and double-lined mittens. No one should have to suffer. One year, 1982, I think, we had to dress the baby in a snowsuit in the house, as the furnace was not keeping up with the northern assault.
Don’t misunderstand, I wouldn’t mind a month or two in Florida or California, but John thinks this is the best time of year in Winona, so I think we’ll be sticking around. Bring on the space heaters!
Aya Cash, who acted with the Great River Shakespeare Festival in its first two seasons, has a starring role in the new Fox TV comedy series “Traffic Light,” in which she plays Callie. It is slated to begin Feb. 8.
Fran’s Book Club
Had lunch with a bunch of bookies (not the betting kind) on Thursday, and here are some suggestions:
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (young adult science fiction that adults are finding fascinating, too)
Ursula, Under by Ingrid Hill
Sullivan’s Island, by Dorothea Benton Frank (said to be perfect for January weather)
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls (I liked her The Glass Castle better)
The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen (murder mystery)
Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors (love story about the building of the Taj Mahal)
Books by Robert Graves
I just finished James Lee Burke’s detective story The Glass Rainbow, which I loved because it is set in one of my favorite places, New Iberia, Louisiana.