I thought of my late husband this morning. I looked out the bedroom window on a brilliantly sunny landscape, and thought, “Oh, no. It’s cold. Very cold.” When I checked the temperature, it was 9 degrees. Certainly not as cold as it will be one day soon this winter, but pretty darned cold.
I spent my childhood near Boston, Massachusetts, where there have been only ten days when the temp was -11 degrees or lower — since 1872 — according to writer Joe Dorish. When I encountered my first winter day in Winona of crunchy snow, brutal wind and “wind chill,” I was shocked, if not in shock.
John always claimed that I wouldn’t even notice the cold if I dressed for it. That was shortly before he took me to a Vikings football game, one of the last in the old Met Stadium. We took a blanket, I borrowed a snowmobile suit, and we stopped in Hastings on the way up to Minneapolis to buy warmer boots. My feet were already cold, and I wasn’t even out of the car yet. I didn’t stay for the end of the game.
The Edstroms always had a more casual relationship with cold than I do. John’s mother never wore gloves, preferring to stick her hands in the pockets of her open coat and scurry wherever she was going. I constantly warned her that she was going to fall on the ice and break something. She never did. I did.
Harold Edstrom, John’s father, thought cold was a state of mind. He claimed he could barely feel the cold if he let himself relax. It was tensing up that made your skin and extremities cold, he claimed. He proved his theory by leaving his overcoat behind in coat rooms all over the Upper Midwest. Jo always put his name on the tags in his coats, as if he were off to summer camp, and they usually were returned to him.
Although Harold and Jo had a winter place in Arizona, they spent December and January in Winona. Go figure.
It wasn’t until last winter, after John’s death, that it occurred to me he might have been right. I bought long underwear, wool socks, sturdy shoes and boots, a warm coat, wooly mittens, and dug out the beautiful scarf my sister had given me a previous Christmas. I began to experiment with dressing to tolerate the cold outdoors without passing out from a heat stroke indoors.
Today, I am wearing at least two layers all over my body, head and hands excepted, unless you count hair. On my legs, I am wearing three layers, and on my torso I have four wonderful layers. Add one more layer when I put on my coat to go outdoors. I am grateful to whichever brilliant scientist discovered that warmth can be achieved with lightweight materials. Instead of looking like the Pillsbury Doughboy, I look like Kirstie Alley before she met Jenny Craig.
Do I rue all those years I tried to look stylish when it was 30 below? No, even though the heating bills were a challenge. Now, the heating bill still comes with a graph telling me that I pay more than any of my “neighbors.” (But it’s not fair to compare me to my friends across the street who heat with wood. If I spent the summer producing huge piles of wood like they do, I would have bled to death long ago and wouldn’t be supporting all those folks at Xcel Energy in the manner to which they have become accustomed. You’d think they’d be nicer to me, rather than pointing out my failings.)
I decided to turn the thermostat down to 66 degrees this year. And I’m perfectly comfortable — if I close the doors to the den and turn on the gas fireplace. From there I jump under my down comforter.
The only glitch in my plan is the room where I take my shower. It’s freezing. My daughter bought me a space heater that looks like a little radiator. Perfect solution, I thought, I’ll put it in the shower room and be toasty as a bagel. Not so fast. The socket in the shower room is attached to the circa 1950 vanity mirror, probably so some long ago ‘50s kind of guy could get out his brand new Schick electric razor and get that close shave that drove women crazy. Trouble is, the socket doesn’t work. (And, as was pointed out to me by my friend Cliff, it isn’t GFI protected, either!)
Now, I must decide which is more economical, to turn up the heat in the whole house, or buy a new vanity mirror and hire an electrician to install a socket for my heater.
That’s why I thought of John. That’s a decision I would have forced him to make, so that when the bill came, it wouldn’t be my fault.
Nelson Mandela, R.I.P.
The world is saying farewell to Nelson Mandela, the hero of South Africa’s victory over apartheid, or racial segregation. It is instructive to current generations living in the United States to have a battle that more or less paralleled our own against segregation, but more recently.
The victory was won, however, in both South Africa and the United States, in what has proven to be merely a battle. The war still wages on. Poverty, unemployment, and lack of upward mobility still plague both countries. The vast majority of the poor, uneducated, and those without prospects in both countries are black people. Sixty-two percent of black Africans in South Africa live in poverty. The figures are better, but not acceptable, in the U.S. Twenty-seven percent of blacks in the U.S. are poor.
Even though President Obama pointed out that poverty in the U.S. is about more than race, blacks still suffer more than whites in general. The “opportunity gap,” and the “education gap,” mean, for the most part, the gap between achievement of whites and blacks.
In the New Testament, Jesus said that the poor will always be with us. He didn’t say this in a fatalistic way, so that we shouldn’t bother with the poor. Quite the opposite. We must find a solution to poverty.
It’s time in the chronicle of mankind for someone the likes of Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela to step forward to the new challenge: how do we narrow or eliminate the gaps that handicap our society. It is no coincidence that Douglass, King, and Mandela were black. The victory must come from a swell of energy and purpose of direction within the beleaguered population, as well as a sincere welcome in the top ranks of society’s achievers — the government, education, economic, and industrial sectors.
As we’ve seen from the recent retrospectives of Nelson Mandela’s life, the task is not easy. It is very hard, but it must be done. We, and South Africa, are suffering from our inability to help our disadvantaged and disenfranchised to enjoy the fruits of our rich countries.