Who would deny that we Minnesotans are earning our winter badges of honor with the weather we’ve tolerated these past several weeks?
No one I’ve encountered recently–and as the temperatures have plummeted, the wind has blown, the snow has drifted and the calendar has flipped to January, it seems there are fewer people on the streets with whom to commiserate when one does venture out.
But yet, it’s not as cold as it has been. An article in the Star Tribune’s Dec. 30, 2013, edition emphasized that last month’s average temperature was 13.9 degrees, a full 10.2 degrees WARMER than the average temperature of 3.7 degrees (in Minneapolis, at least) in December 1983.
December 1983 is not a December to which even the wistful Taylor Swift might wish to return; it happens to be a time period that stands out in my memory, and not because it was overwhelmingly pleasant. Indeed, the National Weather Service cites it as being the “coldest December in modern recorded history,” and Mankato (where I was then) saw its iciest day (minus 32 for the low, minus 15 for the high) on Dec. 19.
In that month, I was home after my first semester at college. Being a freshman, I had not lined up an internship, travel opportunity or other inspirational activity, so earning money to enable the continuation of my studies was the top priority. With nearly four years of experience waitressing at the Happy Chef already under my polyester, brown-and-orange checked scarf, it seemed best to continue in that role for the weeks of my break.
But it was COLD, and trotting out to a freezing car for the two-mile drive to the “Happy Chef in the sky” day after sub-zero day (wearing nylons, rubber-soled shoes and the orange- and brown-checked uniform that was decidedly uncomfortable and unflattering) was far less delightful than running to intellectually stimulating classes across the Carleton campus had been during the three preceding months.
Bountiful snow was also part of the package. And because I happened to live relatively close to the restaurant, on one occasion the manager, desperate to find relief for other staff who had been on duty for perhaps 18 hours straight in the midst of a swirling snowstorm, called and arranged for me to catch a ride with a snow plow driver (at a spot two long, frigid blocks from my house) out to Highway169 to sling more piping hot plates of pancakes, hash browns and cheese supremes in front of the truckers and other intrepid travelers who continued to find their way to the Chef (even while most of the area seemed to be otherwise shut down due to nearly impassable road conditions).
When even the local police and state troopers, who were otherwise frequent customers, failed to darken the doors, you knew that, baby, it was REALLY cold outside.
While I don’t have a confirmed record of this, December 1983 may have also been when the Happy Chef management housed me and a couple other waitresses overnight at the adjacent motel, in order to keep us close at hand in case the highway was closed and other workers couldn’t make it to their shifts.
Have I mentioned that I was receiving $2.11 per hour (plus tips!) for these efforts? My brain must have been frozen, too.
By the standard of December 1983, December 2013 certainly gains favor in my eyes. And my experiences with the cold–and at the Happy Chef–don’t even begin to count as hardships, especially when I consider local friends who are striving to keep barns warm for 2,400 baby pigs, or law enforcement officers, fire fighters, nurses, snow plow drivers and other “essential employees” who remain on duty, or those who may lack reliable transportation to carry them to their jobs.
It’s a good thing my great-great grandparents were the ones huddled in a sod house on 160 acres about six miles northeast of Brewster in 1874, because the claim would never have been “proved up” if I were the one who had to maintain residency there through a cold, dark, snowy winter. Indoor plumbing, electric heat, remotely started vehicles and hot water are improvements and modern conveniences many of us appreciate on a daily basis.
Stay safe, stay warm, stay sane–and when words fail you, just say, “Brrrrrrrr.”
Remember: It could be colder.