I hate cold weather.
It isn’t a deep, abiding, despise-it-with-every-fiber-of-my-being hate. Not yet, at least. But it’s getting there.
The older I get, the harder it is for me to get along with Ol’ Man Winter. If I’m being completely honest, I’d like to whip his tail. But I know better than to pick fights that I can’t win, so instead I’m like the cat when the neighbor’s dog comes in the yard: I just sit back and hiss at him.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I liked cold. I mocked the warm-blooded weaklings who griped and complained about it. “The greatest thing about East Tennessee,” I would say, “is the four distinct seasons.” Bring on the 100-degree temps in July and the 10-degree temps in January. That was my philosophy.
I enjoyed getting out and beating around in the snow in my old Jeep. The slippier the hill and the deeper the ditch alongside the road, the better. It’s not hand-to-hand combat with a saber tooth tiger somewhere in a jungle, and it isn’t the running of the bulls in Spain. But for a middle-America male, it’s as close to flirting with danger as you can get, outside of battling for your place in line at a McDonald’s drive-thru. (As a side note, I’m aware that “slippier” isn’t a word, but this is my column and I’m making my own rules. Sorry, Mrs. Stanley.)
As a young man, I always looked forward to those first major cold fronts of the season. I am a deer hunter, and like most self-respecting deer hunters I know, the colder, the better. What does it matter if you can’t feel your toes and your cheek freezes to the gunmetal when you raise up your rifle?
I also liked an excuse to get out in the cow pasture with the kids, tackling the slopes with breakneck speed on our plastic sleds.
All of that was when I was a young man. Now that I’ve reached the ripe, old age of . . . eh, knocking on 40, I find that my philosophy has changed.
My Jeep mostly stays parked unless it’s hot enough to take the top off, or unless I need to get to work and TDOT crews haven’t made it out my way with their snow plows.
I would just as soon sit in my tree stand in camouflage cutoffs as to shiver under my toboggan.
And as for those sleds, there are some things that cannot defy age. Remember those backyard water slides as a kid? On every Slip-N-Slide box there’s a warning label: “Not for use over age 12.” When my kids wanted to try their first Slip-N-Slide, I read that warning label and found it to be the most nonsensical thing I’d ever heard. The 10-year-old inside my middle-aged body took a running leap — headlong — at that water slide just as I’d done as a kid, and I nearly cracked my sternum and busted my spleen. Along those same lines, I used to like to ice skate. I took my kids to the rink on spring break, my first time on the ice in 20 years. I walked with a limp for a week afterward. And all of that is to say that there are some things you shouldn’t do when you’re older and more brittle. Sledding is definitely one of those things.
If I can’t enjoy the snow, what else is there to like about cold weather? A wise man once told me that cold beats heat. His reasoning? When it’s cold, you can keep adding layers until you’re warm. But when it’s hot, there’s only so much you can take off. Based on the people I see in Walmart in the middle of summer, I can certainly attest that there are some who put that theory into practice, but I’ve always been a modest dresser so I can’t necessarily subscribe to its truth.
What I do know is that as I’m typing this, cold weather has descended on the Cumberlands. Real cold, with nighttime temps bottoming out in the teens and daytime temps not getting out of the 30s. There was a time when I would’ve enjoyed that. There was a time when I would’ve taken off for the Smoky Mountains to take part in the snowfall they experienced over the weekend. Instead, I’m typing this with a space heater blowing on my feet to keep them from going numb, even though the office thermostat is set to a comfortable 72 degrees.
I know I’m not alone in my thoughts. What I’m going through is part of the natural aging process of the American male. Our hair stops growing on top of our head and starts growing out our ears, we can’t play a game of pickup basketball on Saturday night without skipping church on Sunday morning as we bathe in Bengay. And we come to loathe cold weather.
It’s what drives many Americans, as they age, to leave the northern climes and head to sunny Florida, where they spend retirement with the mosquitoes and pelicans, basking in the heat and yelling at the paperboy for his poor aim.
But as I mourned the arrival of the first real cold blast of arctic air of the winter season last week, it hit me that I’m nowhere near retirement age. I’m still a 30-something — old enough for the mailman to be leaving me AARP mailers, sure, but not that old. Not old enough to be consulting Florida realty websites.
It dawned on me, as I griped and complained about the cold with my space heater blowing on my feet: I’ve become a geezer before my time!