WOSTER: Was it really that cold, or are we just getting soft?

So now it's February, past the January thaw and the first polar vortex, and whether or not the groundhog sees a shadow today, we're probably looking at six more weeks of winter.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

So now it's February, past the January thaw and the first polar vortex, and whether or not the groundhog sees a shadow today, we're probably looking at six more weeks of winter.

A couple of nights during the past week were absolutely, positively cold. Out here on the west side of the Missouri River, the overnight temperature was something like minus-18 degrees, and the wind did blow for a while. That's frightfully cold, but I've experienced worse in my life. I'm not bragging about that, but I am kind of proud of myself for not running around telling young people, "This is nothing. I've seen worse weather than this. Let me tell you about the blizzard of '49."

I was tempted to say that a couple of times, but I restrained myself, even when schools were doing cold-weather closures all across the region. I found myself imagining that all over the Upper Midwest, people older than 30 were saying, "Hey, they didn't call off school for cold weather when I was a kid. We were tough." That thought reminded me to keep my "now, in my day" mouth shut.

Another good reminder came with the comment by the Kentucky governor that the nation is getting soft. Never mind that in some places, the coldest weather in a generation was upon the land. I saw a picture of that governor. He looks way younger than I am, but apparently he's already picked up the "now, in my day" way of looking at things.

Our fifth-grade granddaughter had no school for a day or so because of the bitter cold. Nancy and I drove out to the old hometown ahead of the worst of the vortex to collect her and bring her back to stay with us for those free days. That was an unexpected treat for us, and she seemed to enjoy herself.


Her school might have been able to continue classes, probably could have. Maybe the administrators were overly cautious. But whenever we wait for our fifth-grader to be dismissed, we see six or seven big buses collecting kids to take to homes on the far reaches of town and out into the countryside. I wouldn't want the responsibility of sending that precious cargo out into life-threatening weather. I can only imagine how indecisive I'd be if the decision were mine.

I don't think our school ran buses in my day. Country schools still dotted the landscape, so fewer rural kids came to town for classes. Those who did were driven by parents or, in the case of a number of high-school kids from the country, boarded with families in town during the school week. Times were different.

Was this stretch of cold worse than we've had in the past? I can't say for sure, although another granddaughter, who rides the bus to work and back home in a Minnesota college town, said it was cold enough there (minus-30-plus two nights) that her friends drove her to and from work so she wouldn't have to stand around at a bus stop. That's cold, and those are real friends.

I recall in the early 1970s when a legislative reporter from Watertown told me the temperature hadn't been above zero in his hometown for nearly four weeks. He said he almost didn't want to go home on weekends because residents were growing so surly, losing their energy, humor and hope in the seemingly endless cold.

I don't know if this recent spell of cold was that bad. I know I didn't enjoy it. But from the start, the weather forecasts made it clear that a warm-up wasn't far behind the vortex. That made it easier to live through the bad stuff. Humans can endure much if they know it will end. I'm guessing part of the reason those Watertown people were surly was because they were unable to see an end to the misery.

I'm no Bible scholar, but somewhere in the psalms it says, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." If we always were sure of that, vicious cold, long winters and most other miseries, too, would be easier to endure.

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