Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 30, 2009

Is it spring yet?

Husband Art and I had just entered the hospital elevator when a fellow traveler dressed in a Green Bay Packer jacket asked, "Is it spring yet?" We all laughed.

Art and I had returned to Appleton, Wisconsin on Jan. 16 to visit his 98-year-old mother Donna, who had a stroke a few days earlier. While she was progressing as expected, I wasn't ready for the snow and cold and it made a big impression on me.

I've always enjoyed going to Wisconsin over the holidays to see Donna and the other relatives. A bonus has been to see the deeper snow since Kansas typically doesn't get such huge amounts of the white stuff. But I've never seen as much snow as what Wisconsin has had this year. According to a recent Appleton Post-Crescent article, the city has had 59.1 inches of snow so far this season.

Brother-in-law Tommy can testify to that. He taught accounting as a young man and is meticulous with details. So it didn't surprise me that he has recorded the number of times he has removed snow from Donna's driveway and sidewalks - either with the snow blower Art bought him last Christmas or with a good old-fashioned shovel. Last year, Tommy removed snow 32 times, the last occasion being Feb. 28. This winter, he has already done it 21 times and Art did it at least three times while we were there.

The amount of snow was a continuous source of amazement for me. Sometimes, rather than take the most direct route to the hospital, Art would take the "scenic route" - the back streets which were still slick from a January ice glaze. The snow was piled along the curbs, sidewalks and driveways, reaching six to eight feet in many spots. Some people had just tossed in the towel trying to keep their front steps clear. One person, needing a place to park his car, simply drove it onto the edge of the snow bank that had spread into the street and covered the curb. There it sat, tilted at a jaunty 45-degree angle. When we passed by later, the car was gone.

At some intersections, the snow was so high we had to proceed slowly because we couldn't see whether cars were coming on the cross street. Many people tie flags to the top of their cars' antennas as they are usually high enough to be seen from the intersecting street. In retail parking lots, the snow piles were as high as the eaves on some buildings. One day, we observed city workers piling snow into dump trucks, which Art said would then be emptied into a nearby ravine or outside the city.

"Wow!" I thought. "Now that's some snow!"

The temperatures were much colder in Wisconsin than at home, too. When I called Mom or our daughters in Kansas to report the latest news about Donna's recovery, they would inform me that it had been in the 50s or 60s for several days.

In contrast, when we arrived in Appleton, the temperature was hovering in the single digits. That night, it dropped to -2 degrees Fahrenheit. And not wind chill - real inside-your-refrigerator-freezer cold. I told Art it froze the hairs inside my nose.

The warmest it got in Appleton during our stay was in the 20s.

"It's warm!" Art declared one day after looking at the thermometer. "It's almost freezing."

"Very funny," I said, although I had to agree that it felt almost like a heat wave after the single digits and teens we'd been experiencing.

"Really, all you have to do is just dress in layers to protect yourself from the wind," Art said. "Then just go about your business."

I guess he's just a typical Wisconsinite. One day when we were going to the hospital, we passed a building that had a picnic table outside. A couple of gals were taking a smoke break and I noticed that there were soda bottles on the table.

"It looks like they're having a picnic," I told Art. "How can they stand being out there in the cold?"

"Do they have clothes on?" Art asked.

"Yes," I answered.

"And are they winter clothes?" he pressed.

"Well, yes," I said.

"Then they should be fine," he said.

All I could do was shake my head.

The city had another cold snap last weekend. It was 1 degree when we awoke, with wind chills expected to be around -20 degrees. I put on four layers of clothes and decided I would never again complain when temperatures are in the teens and 20s.

But I might occasionally ask, "Is it spring yet?"

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