Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Cold

Woke up to another below zero morning. -5º right now, or so the weather thing on my notebook says.

This is fairly rare around here, thankfully, though there was a period back in the Aughts when it was below zero overnight for several days and never got much above the teens in the daytime. I wasn't here at the time, but I got a call from the city to tell me my water bill was going through the roof and I might want to check on things. In the meantime they'd turned off the water to the house. I flew out from California the next day and sure enough. None of the pipes had broken, but the valve in the toilet was stuck open after it unfroze and it was running constantly. That was an easy fix, but many neighbors had broken pipes. And some had no heat or not enough to keep warm. It was pretty bad. People still remember it as one of the interesting hazards of living out here in the wilderness.

Oh,  I did say the city contacted me and turned off the water when the bill suddenly went very high after the cold snap?Though we're in a rural area in the unpopulated central highlands/East Mountains, we are actually within the city limits of a tiny town that gained a city charter in the 1950s. Among the things they did to become a city was install a city well and piping to a number of houses and businesses -- perhaps 400 or so -- and (get this) they put in a sewage system too. So even though fewer than 2000 people live in this area, maybe 1200 or 1500 within the city limits, it is surprisingly well serviced. Most roads are paved (not necessarily an advantage in the winter), there are streetlights here and there, we get city water (which we don't drink or cook with -- a topic for another post maybe), the sewage gets treated so we don't have to have a septic tank, there are two stoplights in "town" (!), and so on.

One day I might do some research and find out how this happened back then, as such services are very rare anywhere in rural New Mexico. There are very few actual cities in New Mexico, and this is definitely one of the smallest. In the '50s it must have had a much smaller population,. I seem to recall hearing that it was an era of drought and dust storms, too, worse than during the Dust Bowl era.

And here we are now, freezing our hind ends off. It's not so bad in the house, even though it's somewhat drafty thanks to self-built incompletion  -- like fitting the floors all the way to the walls. It was particularly bad in our bedroom, where there was a gap of as much as an inch between the floor boards and the north wall. Well, that let in quite a lot of cold air, and it was only a week or so ago that I got around to fixing some of it. There are still some drafts, but it's not nearly as bad. There are drafts elsewhere in the house where uneven settlement has opened up some gaps. But they are relatively minor. I've fixed some, and others I'm still searching out. One day, I hope to find and fix them all.

As for heat, we have a great big gas fired behemoth in the living room that heats most of the house relatively well. It replaced a  '40s era gas heating stove that looked something like a streamlined console radio. I wanted to keep it, but the renovation contractor (who apparently didn't notice all the drafts) said it wasn't salvageable. Sad. He installed a new Williams fan-forced console heater. The fan gave out a while back, but we really don't need it. We use portable electric radiators where we need spot heating, and they work pretty well.

We have one frozen pipe right now, the hot water line (ironically) to the bathroom, and it's not likely to unfreeze until the outside temperature is above freezing for at least 24 hours. Not gonna happen for the rest of this week and possibly not next week for long enough. We still have hot water in the kitchen, and if that one freezes too, we can use the heating stove or the gas range to heat water as long as one cold water line stays unfrozen.

We have been through this before.

Before we bought the house, we were told that the pipes froze and burst one winter (probably 2003) and were replaced with plastic which wasn't supposed to burst when it froze. So far, we've been lucky.

I spent my first winter in Iowa where the Christmas picture in the last post was taken. That was a cold winter, I'm sure. When I went back in January, 1969, after my father died, temps were in the single digits. I have no memory of cold in Iowa when I was an infant but I do remember the smell of the coal fired furnace in my father's house. I don't remember seeing or experiencing snow in Iowa either. So it was kind of surprising how cold it was in Iowa when I returned in the winter of 1969.

Cold used to make me angry. This was practically a Pavlovian response that I didn't understand. Yet any feeling of chill was likely a trigger for anger that left me bewildered. As I say, I had no memory of my first winter in Iowa. And in California where we lived near the Coast or in Los Angeles County or in the Sierra foothills or in the Central Valley, cold, real cold, and snow and such were almost unheard of.

And yet...

Cold is a relative thing, isn't it?

You're cold compared to something else; "warmth". Cold is uncomfortable compared to what you're used to. Cold is an absolute depending on the thermometer, but your feeling of cold depends on a variety of factors including how well you're bundled up in cold weather.

I had a brief introduction to cold weather in Iowa in 1969. I stayed only a few days, and all I had were "California clothes" so I got pretty chilled, but I didn't think it was so bad. And I recall anger. It's complicated because I was also mourning my father's death, so I couldn't really sort the anger I felt at being cold from other feelings at the time.

Years later, I spent entire winters in Upstate New York and Alaska, and I'll admit those were cold. Very cold. And they did sometimes make me angry. Anger that I didn't understand.

There was no reason for anger or so I thought, and letting the cold get to me seemed stupid. I felt it might have been a body memory. In other words, something must have happened to me when I was young to make me angry when I was cold -- even if the cold wasn't anything like that of Iowa or Upstate New York or Alaska.

For years, I had no idea what it might be. What could have happened and where?

These days, my memory is not what it used to me. It's pretty much shot to hell. Many memories are scrambled. Others are gone (Ms Ché likes to taunt me about it because her memory is still very sharp -- though it too isn't quite what it used to be...). But while pondering the issue I had with cold and anger, I was able to figure out some things that had long perplexed me.

I remembered some times when I felt shivering cold when I was an infant and toddler, up to age three or four, and how in some cases, I was furious about it.

Let me explain. We lived in Santa Maria, California, which usually doesn't get very cold or very hot at all. It's about eight miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, in a valley surrounded by hills and mountains. It's foggy on a lot of mornings and evenings all year long. It rains in the winter and spring. Almost never freezes. It may have snowed once in the last fifty years.

My mother was a late shift and on-call hospital employee which meant she had to go in at all hours after she'd worked a full shift -- which was sometimes 3p-11p and sometimes 11p-7a. Until she left to break into Show Business in 1951, my sister would  take care of me at home no matter what my mother's on call and regular shift hours might be. But after she left, my mother had to figure out something else, and what she figured out was to put me in the back of the car and take me to the hospital with her.

In the wintertime, it was foggy, damp and relatively cold and being woken up and hauled to the hospital in the backseat of the car (at that time, a 1942 Packard Clipper on its last legs) was not a treat for me. I had to stay in the car while she did what she had to do in the hospital.  I had a blanket but it didn't keep me warm. The nuns ( it was a Catholic hospital) wouldn't let me stay in the hospital lobby to keep warm. Sometimes my mother had to stay at the hospital for hours before she could go back home to get some sleep herself.

But even when we got back home, I probably did not sleep myself. I would probably still be shivering cold, as the only heat in our house came from a gas radiant heater in the non-functional fireplace. It heated the living room but not the bedrooms or bathroom.

The warmest room in the house was probably the kitchen where the gas oven was lit and the oven door was left open heating the room nicely.

When I thought of those late-night treks to the hospital and how very cold I felt, I could easily imagine becoming angry at a situation I could not control, and I could see that as a trigger for my later feelings of anger at being cold.

I remember particularly Ms. Ché and I were in New York City at Thanksgiving one year and it was cold. We were enjoying ourselves even so until... we got caught in the Macy's parade crowd, and for a time we couldn't move. I wasn't scared, I was angry, and that anger actually helped get us out of that predicament. Our hotel was only a block or so away, so by dint of fury, I was able to thread a path for us out of the crush and escape back to our hotel.

But fury and rage at cold didn't always have a positive effect. It could also be utterly inappropriate. So many times I responded with anger to something that didn't call for it, and every time, I would be bewildered.

Now, however, though it is freaking cold outside, and not that warm inside in some rooms, I don't feel angry at the cold. It's just another experience to cope with. I am grateful that the anger I used to feel at being cold no longer applies.

Only memories -- maybe scrambled -- now.

Happy New Year!

1/5/2019 UPDATE -- This appears to be the seventh day in a row of single digit or below zero overnight temps, and so far only one above freezing daytime temperature (yesterday) -- 37º for a couple of hours. Frozen pipes all over the area (our bathroom hot water pipe is still one of them, but so far the rest have stayed unfrozen thanks to running a stream of water all the time. Most of the main roads are clear, but there is ice in patches, and our local roads are packed snow and ice. Have to go to Santa Fe today. What fun...