The last time the temperatures dropped this low here along the Gulf Coast, I was in middle school. The sleeveless ski vest had just trickled South. The theory being that since your chest and heart were warm, your arms, hands, and presumably your lower extremities, would be kept warm by the cozy, toasted blood pumping through your body. So I stood at the bus stop shivering, with witch-tit-cold arms, looking a lot like a quilted mattress. No wonder my boyfriend kept trying to lay down on me.
This morning during this latest cold snap, I pass a line of running cars at the corner where the bus picks up for the middle school. As the bus pulls up, in a choreographed motion, car doors open, spilling teens bundled like calzones for the short sprint from car to bus. Parents here, like conscientious parents everywhere else I suppose, prep their kids for inclement weather in the same way they prep them for football tryouts, SATs, or an approach by a child molester. Apparently, the deterrent to misfortune is a carefully negotiated ratio of padding and hovering.
At the local shopping center, it becomes clear that while the children in our community are well-prepared for cold weather in color-coordinated coats, gloves, mittens and Christmas Uggs -- items they’ll need maybe two weeks out of the year, the adults actively deny themselves access to outerwear. I’m not sure if this denial is pious and self-sacrificing, mere frugality or out-and-out masochism. For me, it’s the later -- that and laziness. I do own a coat, but it’s in a back closet covered in dust and cat hair. It’s much easier to pull things out of the closet at random and put them on, creating layers that equal the material depth of a warm coat. So what if you can’t go to the bathroom, try on clothes, or even sit down comfortably. So what if you find yourself sweating in an overheated department store but you can’t take any layers off because you can’t remember if the next layer is the shirt with the hole over the boob. (Long story that one.) The point is that you’ve not been browbeaten or broken. You have not been forced to wear a coat. I mean there are reasons we live here, and the main one is that it is not cold. While hurricanes have many times forced us into footy-smelling high school gyms/shelters, defrosted our freezers full of precious gulf fish, and left us lapping water from our bathtubs along with our dogs, we will not be further bullied by this interloper called "cold." That’s one of those Northern things, like undercooked green beans and "pop."
Which is how I find myself vacuuming the house wearing a pair of my husbands black socks and Liberty clogs (a more elegant version of Crocs), a pair of pajama pants that are too small in an unalluring way, a long sleeve t-shirt spattered with paint, topped by a high-necked flannel nightgown in black and ivory plaid. I don’t even own a warm robe. As I vacuum, I pick up every hair clip, barrette and ponytail band I find and attach it to my head for safekeeping. My husband happens upon me in this getup – although it should be said his own getup isn’t any less ludicrous – and lets out a sound somewhere between a scoff and a gasp.
"What!?" I say, arching my hip gamely, "Like you wouldn’t do me."
This is usually where he leers playfully, but this time one side of his mouth drops like a set of broken attic stairs. "You look demented!" he exclaims.
In that moment, after forty years of hurricanes and even a tornado, I come as close as I have ever come to being beaten by the weather. I think briefly about having my coat dry cleaned and buying an actual set of pajamas and a robe. Then I think that it will certainly be warmer tomorrow. Because this is a place that is not cold. And, anyway, he would so do me.