Thirty-two years ago, I was a freshman at Notre Dame and the year’s first cold snap shocked the adventurous spirit right out of me. Venturing out across campus again and again, over ice and slush and with snowflakes clinging to my eyes, seemed comparable to living on Mars. The only time I felt warm was in the shower.
I called my father back home in New Orleans. He also had gone to Notre Dame and suffered through the frosty winters.
“Dad,” I wailed. “I can’t do this. I want to come hone.” He pretended to be sympathetic, then casually mentioned the 70 degree temps in New Orleans that day. That’s just the kind of people we are.
The next day, I received a package from L.L. Bean. When I opened it, an enormous sky blue down parka exploded from the box like an air bag. It had a big hood with a fur collar, snug sleeves, and stretched down past my hips. There was a card. It read: You CAN do it. Love, Dad.
Fast forward a generation.
My father-in-law was a kind, gentle man who, like me, loved the sea and disdained the cold. He lived on Cape Cod, where the summer’s warmth can be blown away by winter winds almost overnight. A few weeks after he died, the family gathered on a frigid weekend in January to spread his ashes on the shore. As his four children gathered at the beach, a stiff wind blew the sand around in stinging swirls, so Hot Firefighter Husband and his brother waded into the freezing water and helped their father’s remains become part of the waves in which he once swam.
Back at his childhood home, Husband had a hard time warming up after his fully-clothed swim. He browsed through his dad’s closet, and found a navy blue North Face down parka, a marshmallow of a coat that I do believe could keep an Eskimo warm. When we returned to Florida, it was the only one of his father’s belongings that he brought.
For most of the year, that parka hangs in our closet. But during stretches like these, when our balmy weather gives way to freezing temps, the Diva pulls it out and wriggles her skinny frame into its puffy warm folds. She wears it to school. “Papa’s jacket,” she calls it. Every time I see her snuggled into its downy comfort, I warm up a tiny bit from the inside out.
That’s the only thing I like about this cold.