My 16 year old son, Patric, informed me, as I staggered in the door after a day of carrying mail in the bone-wrenching cold, that there was a name for the subzero temperatures that have befallen much of the country: it is a “Polar Vortex”.
I thought it great that such a name had been given to such a thing; it sounds like the name of an Evil Villain from a superhero movie or something.
How cold was it?
Cold enough that when the wind blew my eyes would tear up. Then the tears would freeze, and my eyelashes would be iced together and I would have to swipe them with my hand to free them.
Cold enough that the hand-warmers I bought still left my fingers freezing (I was frostbit when a teen, and it hurts to be cold). I wish they made body suits and socks and gloves out of that stuff.
Cold enough that I actually started thinking that I would have rather have an inside job, if only for the day.
Returning to the office, I compared notes with the other carriers. I told them that it was the coldest I remembered being since the first winter I carried mail, 29 years ago, in a particularly harsh Michigan winter. Later, discussing it with my family, I realized that actually this was not true.
The coldest I ever recall being was a day in Virginia. It was not even comparable in temperature; today it was around 5 below, with the wind making it feel like 30 below. That day in Virginia it was a balmy-sounding 31 or 32, right at freezing. But it was windy, with a hard freezing sleet all day long. And I did not have the sort of gear I now have; no insulated waterproof boots, no Gortex raincoats, no rain pants.
After an hour I was soaked to the bone, and walking ankle-deep in slush.
Imagine marinating in ice water for hours, with a wind bearing down on you, hard.
I was single in those days, and when I got home, thoroughly chilled, I drew a hot bath, poured a stiff brandy and laid there until the chill had lifted.
The cure almost made the disease worth it.
Now I am married, and when I got home, my bride, God bless her soul, had a stiff drink of peppermint schnapps and a hot bath ready for me. And after that, homemade chili and cornbread, with a fresh dill pickle, with no chemicals or fake colors, from a local pickle company.
The kids were wild, having been cooped up all day, but they are starting to calm down.
And it is not lost on me that we here in Ohio did not have it all that bad; snow was light, and however chilly, it does not compare with North Dakota or Minnesota, or even Michigan .
Indeed, I wonder how my brother and sister letter carriers do it in such places.
Looking on the Dark Side, tomorrow is going to be worse.
But looking on the Bright Side: it is only for two days. Wednesday is going to be a practically tropical 20 degrees.
And by the weekend it will be in the 40s. I may wear shorts.
Art by PJ Lynch.