Waiting for the ‘Big Chill’

Published 7:00 am Friday, October 28, 2016

Growing up in New England, I experienced the inverse of what I’ve experienced for the last forty years living in the Gulf South.

When the first snow arrived in early December, it was always a celebration of winter’s silvery, white arrival.  The first gentle snowfall ushered in the spirit of Christmas. The season and holiday bonded into a seamless vision of chilly, magical nights and festive house parties.  By January, we still enjoyed winter and its sports and activities with ice skating on frozen cranberry bogs, building snowmen and ambitious snow sculptures, skiing (for those of us who could afford it), and those wonderful  icy, gray mornings of furiously falling   snow with the much anticipated “no school” announcements on our radio.

But by March, winter’s welcome and novelty was more than worn out.  After another month during which a week or two of school was missed because of a miserable flu, living with a lingering bronchitis (which required the frequent lathering of Vicks on one’s throat, nostrils, and chest), and daily freezing feet, ears and noses, my brothers and I began to dream of summer, the ultimate paradise; we just needed to survive the long winter. Of course, for us the dream was for a New England summer; weather perhaps 65 degrees, warm enough for just a sweater. 

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And for many years, I remember just as the last of the massive snow banks at the street corners finally melted away, an April snowstorm would suddenly blow in and cover the ground again with anywhere from an inch to a half a foot with sloppy, icy snow.

By then we were ready to assemble our woolen winter wardrobe to our mothball-laden

cedar closets, and my father was ready to take down the storm windows on our house and put up the screens, but as long as there was snow, no spring rituals would begin.

So it was discouraging to trudge to church on Easter Sundaystill in winter coats and boots, with Easter egg hunts in the living room instead of in the backyard.

Some long winters I’d get so discouraged, I’d take my mom’s old Spiegel and Sears catalogues and just leaf through the above ground swimming pools, beach accessories and summer fashions sections, planning  and writing down what I’d ask my parents to get me for my birthday, usually on the last day of school in June.

It felt sometimes as though Spring would never come.  But one morning, either before or after spring break,  walking outside, one felt it: a breeze, a musk-like scent, patches of pale green velvet on our lawn and the triumphant preview of crocuses, the first flowers of spring. And gradually, I felt like Persephone emerging from  Hades.  The days’ temperatures climbed into the 40s, then into the 50s. The sun shone more and set later. Neighbors I had barely seen since Christmas began emerging from their winter cocoons and took to the streets and lawns riding their bikes, bouncing basketballs, jumping rope, painting houses and fences, preparing gardens. Baseball season had begun. Cotton shirts and jeans replaced ski pants and woolen sweaters.  I could wear my windbreaker and loafers or sneakers instead of boots. The New England world I lived in was coming alive again with colors and blue skies and mild breezes.

    And now forty years later, I’m anticipating, like my other friends and neighbors who are natives of the Gulf South, the final end of a long, hot Southern summer, that started in early May. We are now weary of the heat, the humidity and temperatures that seldom vary outside of 80 to 90.  We are ready for that first morning when we walk outside to a crisp coolness and a sky that seems a deeper blue; that morning we may run back inside to get a light jacket .

And as I look forward to that first cool, crisp morning, like my neighbors, I still cling to the New England habit of anticipating Spring. 

I love the world awash in the pinks and lavenders and whites  of azaleas, wisteria and gardenias. I love Easter Sunday. And I love looking forward to my first swim of the year. 

Change is inevitable, even when it seems it could be summer (or winter) forever.

By Deborah Craig