Our lives are different in the cold.
In sunnier months, we spend all our free time outside. Or … I imagine that we do, as I sit here under a blanket wearing fuzzy slippers and warming my face with steam from my cinnamon tea. Sometimes, even in the spring, I suppose we still watch TV. We play cards. Have tickle fests. Camp in the living room. Draw the shades. But the point is – we can go outside if we want in the spring. In the winter, fewer options are available.
I am a California girl and after twenty-plus years, I’ve finally gotten used to the fact that it’s cold during a Midwestern winter. Most of the time. The sunshine outside my window does not help me determine what coat to wear all day. Jack Frost really does nip at a person’s nose, and you should always plan to leave your house early on a snowy day if you want to get somewhere on time.
I grew up believing “How’s the weather?” was just a question my Oklahoma grandma asked my mom on the phone during conversational lulls because they didn’t know how to get along, how to carry on a civil conversation with one another, with no one blaming anyone for anything. I mean, who can blame anyone for the cold?
But it’s not that kind of question.
After twenty years of living in a place with seasons, I’ve come to believe “How’s the weather?” really is meant to start a conversation. It’s an authentic inquiry into the shape of a person’s day.
How’s the weather?
I suppose you could poll one hundred people in the same town and you’d get one hundred different answers. Here’s mine:
In the cold, we bundle. We look down as we walk, to avoid the biting wind. We wear layers. We surround ourselves with clothing. We are bulky. Our bodies feel bigger than they are.
I knew I had truly arrived in the Windy City when I bought — ten years in –what I lovingly call my sleeping bag coat. It’s black, bulky, and very, very long.
If you can’t picture the kind of coat I mean, think back and imagine yourself (or me, if you prefer) at a middle school sleepover, zipped up and cozy. You’re off to the side, sleeping – actually sleeping – with your head on a pillow and your puffy sleeping bag pulled over your head with maybe five hairs sticking straight out. Your friends see only the five hairs, and then rows and rows of senseless stitching. That’s my coat. Except my coat is warmer. It’s supposed to protect me down to 30-below. They don’t sell this kind of coat in California.
In the Midwest, we do not chat leisurely with our neighbors in winter. Or I don’t, anyway. Not like in summer. Unless we’re working together to shovel the alley or dig out someone’s car.
We do not gather at night on a friend’s porch – martini in one hand, monitor in the other – not in wintertime.
Most winter days – true winter days – the only interaction I have with people who aren’t in my office or in my home is a swift nod of acknowledgement as I hurry down the sidewalk.
We don’t stop to pet dogs or admire the small shiny toys of young children. We do not run out to the park before dinner to kick a ball around. We do not amble in wintertime.
We rush, bundled, from one warm spot to another. We watch TV. We draw. We get on each other’s nerves. If it snows, we might sled. Or ski. Or build a snowman. Or start a snowball fight.
The cold changes how we live. How I live.
So, how’s the weather?
It’s a weighty question. You can answer as deeply as you like.
Is there a dusting of snow? A biting wind? Sunny blue skies? Is it wet? Drippy grey?
Do you long for one ray of sun?
If you have children, did they play outside at recess, or are they suddenly doing ten cartwheels in the hallway, ripping up binder paper, kicking balls and other things against the walls?
Do you feel too big in your coat? Is yours short-waisted, or do you have a sleeping bag coat like mine?
How’s the weather where you are? How does it shape your day?