Memories of Cold

Author: Hans; License: Public Domain Dedication

We are ahead of pace on snowfall for the season, and the average low temperature this month has been about 18 degrees below average. It is cold.

Monday morning this week, the temperature in Kansas City was -11 degrees. As luck would have it, I was scheduled to be in court on Monday to serve as a mediator, and courts do not shut down for the cold. I had to leave home by 8:15 to arrive on time.

The snow has a different crunch to it when the temperature is so cold. I had plenty of time to listen to its unusual tone as I walked across the parking lot to the courthouse. The snow doesn’t squelch at all; it sounds more like cracking. Even the car tires on the snow at these extreme temperatures sound different than the slushy sound they make when the sand and salt are able to start some melting on the streets.

But our -11 degree temperature this week was far from the coldest I’ve experienced in Kansas City. As I crunched across the parking lot on Monday, I remembered those coldest mornings many years ago.

On December 22 and 23, 1989, we had the coldest temperature ever recorded in Kansas City. Those mornings were -23 degrees. My children were young then—my daughter only four, and my son seven. I was responsible for the morning drop-off at their school. (Thank goodness they went to the same school!) They were too young to walk into the building by themselves. I had to sign them in each morning.

high-heels-in-the-snow-winter-fashion-300x183In those days— my lawyering days—I had to wear skirts to work. And heels. I remember the sound of the snow crunching underfoot that week so many years ago the same way it did this Monday, but I walked through it in pumps rather than the boots I wore on Monday. Even if the garage at home was tolerable those long-ago mornings, by the time I parked the car and took the kids inside, I was freezing. The heater in my station wagon could not quite warm me up by the time I reached my office.

I noticed the difference between -11 and -23 not in the sound of the snow but in the air I took in through my nose and lungs. When I walked outside this Monday, I could breathe relatively comfortably. (At least to get the newspaper from the driveway, and later walking across the parking lot.) But back in 1989, unless I pulled a scarf over my nose and mouth, it hurt to breathe.

On one of those coldest mornings ever in December 1989, my family had an early morning flight for an out-of-town Christmas vacation—a trip to the distant grandparents I mentioned in a recent post. I recall sitting in the taxi with the kids about 5:00am, waiting for my husband to turn off the water in the house before we left. We were shivering uncontrollably by the time he got in the cab and we headed to the airport. The heater in the taxi was no more able to combat -23 degrees than my station wagon.

What happened when we got to the airport that morning in December 1989 is memorable also. But it’s a story that properly belongs to the Christmas season, rather than to winter generally, so I’ll save it for another day. The story goes by the name of The Orange Juice Incident. And with that brief reference, my kids and husband are already groaning.

What memories do you have of extreme weather? What brings back those memories for you?


Posted in Family, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , .


  1. What I love is the squeak of snow as you walk along sidewalks or pathways. Your picture of heels stepping through the snow reminds me of a cold Ottawa winter when I had a short winter coat (must have been all the rage) and I wore only nylons to keep my legs warm along with high-heeled boots. And, of course, no hat because I felt that hats made me look silly. Now how stupid was that? I could have frozen to death!

    • “Squeak” does describe the sound of the snow.
      I hate hats, too, and will only wear them when I’m outside for prolonged periods in winter. But no more skirts.
      Thanks for reading,

  2. Even as a young girl, I enjoyed being alone in the quiet, serene landscape — never in a hurry, but I was never late for school. I felt unearthly, disguised, a bit claustrophobic and unrecognizable in my leggings, zipped from my ankles to almost my knees, boots, coat, earmuffs, hat and mittens. A woolen scarf coiled round my neck. I could hear the traffic on Benton Boulevard but my head’s range of motion was restricted, due to my scratchy, woolen neck brace. The scarf climbed my chin, disguised my mouth and nose. It grew damp from my breath in the confined warmth. I hated the feel of that wet against my lips and face. Layers beneath my coat, chosen by Mom for the day, were topped with a sweater in case the school heat was inadequate.

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