Did you ever have one of those moments when some long lost memory just pops into your head out of the blue? It happened to me yesterday when a simple thought came to me: "My hands are cold." But then, I continued with my inner dialog; "When aren't my hands cold?" This caused me to reflect on Cape Cod's weather, which is often unpredictable (despite the meteorologists' best efforts) and often goes to extremes.
A flood of memories suddenly poured through the dusty, spiderweb draped doorway that creaked open in my brain. I was fourteen and it was a bitterly cold, ten degree day with strong winds gusting up to 60 miles an hour. This kind of cold and wind was enough to take your breath away, but for my younger brother Russ and I, this was just another winter's day and we decided to take a walk to the beach.
As the crow flies, the beach we lived near on Cape Cod Bay was about a quarter of a mile from our house and visible from our north-facing windows, but since there was a pond and a creek between us and the shore, we had to walk the streets that went around all that and it was roughly about a half mile to get there, then we typically walked along the beach another half mile to the next parking lot, back up a series of streets to our road, making a circle about 2 miles long. A pleasant walk down country lanes and a peaceful stretch of sandy beach. Back then, we could make that stroll during the off-season and never see a car nor another person. We kids did this daily, sometimes at a run if we wanted more exercise, in almost any weather. If we went for a second walk or run during the evening, my Dad would join us and on clear nights would point out the stars and constellations and explain celestial navigation.
Russ and I bundled up in parkas, pulling up our hoods for warmth and to keep the wind out of our faces and set out. We were about half way to the beach when I realized that my mittens weren't in my parka pockets as they usually were. I commented to Russ on this and said I would just keep my hands in my pockets.
The roads were icy and there was lots of snow; and the beach was buried under mounds of ice floes that were pushed up the sand and piled on top of one another with each incoming tide, but we were merrily oblivious to potential perils. We tried to walk along the ice floes in the snow to traverse the beach, but the footing was unsure at best. At one point, I stepped onto the fresh snow, only to find that it was actually a drift of snow about four feet deep and I broke through the crust, putting my hands out to break my fall. Russ and I had been laughing as we slipped and slid along the snowy beach and ice floes, and now Russ came to help me up and make sure I was okay. I was fine, but my hands were now wet, and just a few moments' exposure had turned them a dark pink color. Russ frowned. He motioned to the sheep-skin US Air Force issued gunner's gloves (combination gloves/mittens with the thumb and forefinger getting their own 'finger' and the other three fingers enclosed in a mitten) he had borrowed from our Dad;
"Why don't you put these on- I can put my hands in my pockets until we get home." I thought that my hands would warm up again once they were out of the weather again, so I said:
"That's okay, thanks, I think I'll be alright."
We returned to our walk, but even though the scenery was strikingly beautiful, some of the fun had gone out of our adventure. By the time we'd reached the other parking lot and were starting the home leg of our circle, my hands really hurt and they were completely numb. When we entered a wooded section of road that was out of the wind, I stopped and took my hands out of my pockets. They were now a distinctly plum color and they felt like deadwood hanging off my arms.
"I think you had better put on my gloves now." Russ stated with all the authority a twelve year old could muster.
I grimly nodded in agreement.
Russ tried to hand me the gloves, but my fingers couldn't work, so he slid them over my hands as best he could and we made our way home.
Our mother, who has amazing physic abilities when it come to her children, was leaning out the front door as Russ and I turned the corner and came within sight of our house. She yelled toward us:
"What's the matter with your hands?" This was eerily reminiscent of a day when I was in the fourth grade and someone at school had accidentally shut my finger in a door, causing the end of my finger to swell to approximately the size of a golf-ball. It was painful, but still somehow kind of fascinating to a 8 or 9 year old who just couldn't get over the sight of my cartoon-ish digit. But, my Mom wasn't nearly so amused as her eagle-eyes caught a glimpse of that huge finger (which might as well have been the size of one of those foam fingers that you see at sports games, in her mind) as soon as I turned that same corner and got almost the same response: "What's the matter with your finger?"
When we pulled the gloves off, my hands were now an alarming shade of deep purple. My mother had me soak my hands in warm water, gradually upping the amount of hot water in sink until the color began to improve and it took some time, but eventually they were a pink again- albeit, a mottled, bright pink. The feeling wasn't completely restored for months. But, ever since then, my hands have been cold.
This photo was taken that day as we set out.
I don't think this photo was taken the same day, but I believe it was taken that winter. My brother Russ and the ice floes.
But, not all winter memories were so serious. We were lucky enough to live across the street from a vernal pond that froze solid every winter and was the perfect place to ice skate. There was a large boulder that made a nice seat to sit on while you laced up your skates. There were lots of trees and bushes that were scattered here and there in the pond, and after an ice storm, they would be bedecked in glittering ice that made them look like a stunningly lovely crystal forest. There were days when we would skate from breakfast until dark, chasing one another through the jeweled trees and brush, practicing spins and glorying in the freedom of gracefully gliding feet!
And, of course, we built igloos, snowmen, even snow-Easter Bunnies if the snow was still falling at Easter. That near-frostbite with the purple hands was the only time I remember being concerned about something bad happening as a result of winter weather.
But I did have a little incident one spring day, when the snow had all melted away. It was a chilly, but sunny day and my older sister Nancy and I planned to go for a run to the beach. We donned heavy sweatshirts over our clothes and set out at a good pace, slowed to a walk once we arrived at the beach and when we hit the road again, we started to run once more. We were kidding around and giggling and challenged one another to go faster. We turned onto our very mucky dirt road and in trying to outrun my sister, I forgot to watch where I was going. You've probably guessed what happened.... I tripped and with my forward momentum, went flying through the air and did a spectacular, arms flailing wide, face plant into a very large puddle. My sister stopped in mid-stride with open-mouthed surprise at the sight, but was soon doubled-over, roaring with laughter, as I rose from the mud like The Creature of the Black Lagoon emerging from the swamp. But, really, Nancy felt some sympathy for my plight. It was hard to tell, since she could hardly talk, or breathe, she was laughing so hard, but she really did. We walked the last fifty yards home, with me dripping mud and squishing wetly at every step. While I took a nice, hot shower, Nancy cooked a batch of tapioca to help warm me up. When we sat down at the table to enjoy the steaming tapioca Nancy was still struggling to suppress an occasional chortle and she finally blurted out;
"I'm so sorry! I can't help laughing! I know it's not funny..... BUT IT JUST LOOKED SO FUNNY!" So much for 'it's not funny'. "Hee-hee...." snuffle "you just flew through the air," gasp "I've never seen anything like it.... but I KNOW it's not funny..... BWA-HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!"
This was 35 years ago, and Nancy still loves to tell this story... "Remember the day you fell in the mud?"
How can I forget? That's one doorway in my brain that has never had a chance to gather dust or spiderwebs; but that's okay. It may not have been my proudest moment, but it's cherished just the same.