jayellebee's Blog

January 3, 2011

You Know It’s Cold When . . . .

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 6:48 pm

          A friend moved to North Dakota to join her new groom.  He was in the Air Force, assigned to a missile silo base.  Their first baby arrived a few winters later and the pediatrician advised them not to take the infant outside.  If he were to cry, as babies do, the tears would freeze and burn the tender new skin on his face.  Now, that’s cold!  California, even northern California, is down-right tropical by comparison.

     I got into the rhythm of swimming laps several times a week in the time known as BD (before dog).  Never felt better and the exercise even increased my bra size.  That’s what I call getting extra credit.  However, as dog walking took over my spare time, swimming went the way of several other non-essentials (like eating bon-bons while reading romance novels).  Three-and-one-half years later, my diminutive bust has returned and my arthritic back berates me for not showing the proper respect.

     So, in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, I joined Club Sierra in Grass Valley and went for my first swim this morning.  I left the house at 11:00, wanting to arrive after the old-lady water aerobics class adjourned.  My PT Cruiser’s thermometer told me the outside temp was a balmy 39 degrees – last week we had a string of days where the mercury never rose above 36 and snow fell twice – so I relaxed behind the wheel, thinking the roads would be ice-free. 

     I have precious little experience driving in snow and ice.  Our traditional marriage demands Ken drive and I ride shotgun whenever we travel together.  I can count on my fingers the number of winter outings that found me driving in Truckee when we frequented that area years ago.  The last experience must’ve been around 1990. 

     Ken had pulled a leg muscle skiing that day.  The approaching dinner hour reminded our crew they were hungry for pizza.  I called in the order and was asked if I wanted home delivery for an extra $5 charge.  No way this cheap skate was gonna bounce for that!  After all, we had a four-wheel drive Suburban with snow tires.  I’d drive the mile-and-a-half myself and save the dough.  Pun intended.

     I’d been watching the kids sledding in the late afternoon sun, and noted their speed increased as the temperature dropped.  I knew the roads were icy.  Ken’s words followed me to the garage, “Don’t use the brakes going into curves.”  Oldest son Brian, then about 16, and I loaded up and headed down to the pizza parlor.  I was nervous, but confident.  I’d taken drivers’ ed.  I knew all about steering into the skid, if needed.

     The car’s rear end broke loose at the top of a long, curving downhill grade, in the dark.  I must not have panicked, ’cause I’m pretty sure I kept my eyes open.  I know I held my breath.  We spun 180 degrees, traversing the street diagonally from  the lane where we belonged into the lane where we didn’t.  The invisible two foot deep drainage ditch paralleling the road loomed large in my memory banks.  Couldn’t see it, but I knew it was there.  I became aware something else was there, too.   Head lights grew ever larger in my rear view mirror – Brian and I weren’t alone on the dark stretch of rural pavement.

     Our Suburban continued its downhill backward drift, gradually slowing.  Another vehicle drew nearer, driving in the more conventional forward mode.  Mouth dry, eyes bulging, heart thumping, I told Brian to brace for impact.  Luck was with us that night.  We came to a stop with our right rear tire mere inches from falling into the roadside ditch; the car pointing back toward the safety of our cabin.  The approaching car passed in slow motion and disappeared into the darkness ahead. 

     “Do you want me to drive?” Brian asked, no doubt seeing the terror that held his mother more tightly than any seatbelt could.

     I looked at him, recognizing the concern that motivated his offer.

     “If we have to tell your father we wrecked the car tonight,” I asked, “who would you rather say was driving?”

     We inched our way home.  Expectant heads turned at our entry.  A chorus of confused voices asked, “Where’s dinner?”

     I called the pizza joint, apologized, and explained I wouldn’t be picking up our pie after all.  The $5 delivery charge was paid and an extravagant tip handed over.  For years, I re-lived the fear every time Ken chauffeured me past my near-accident.  And I never drove in the snow/ice again.  Until this morning.

     There is a road near our home named, “Wet Hill.”  I giggled at the name when we first came here, thinking dirty thoughts and joking about what sort of dreams people who live there must have.  Yeah, I know.  Immature, that’s me.  Anyhow, it’s called Wet Hill because ground water burbles to the surface non-stop.   Mud never fully dries.   Springs are everywhere.  In the winter, especially after a rain, water flows freely from Wet Hill across the road I drive.  Too late, I realized that although the air temperature this morning was 39, the surface of the road – especially in the shade of overhanging trees – might be below freezing.  The sheen on the black asphalt confirmed my fears.  The Truckee nightmare flashed through my brain.

     I took a deep breath, down-shifted, shunned the urge to brake, and noted the absence of nearby traffic.  Once again, luck was on my side.  I passed the black ice without incident and proceeded unhindered to Club Sierra.  An hour later, I had changed into a swimsuit, swum (with frequent breaks to catch my breath), re-dressed in layers including long-johns, and emerged into the crisp air feeling pretty darned righteous.  Cloud cover had blown in while I stroked through warm waters.

     You know it’s cold when . . . your hair freezes!  I’ll take my hair dryer along next time I go for a swim.



  1. Wonderful! As always, puts me right there with you and reminds me of moments when. Well done, Joanne.

    Comment by Jean G — January 3, 2011 @ 8:31 pm | Reply

  2. Great story Joanne but I am still shivering. And now you have inspired me to start swimming again – I thought air temps of 60 degrees were cold.

    Comment by nina bucchere — January 4, 2011 @ 8:19 pm | Reply

  3. Brrr! I assume that your pool is indoors, that your hair froze when you “…emerged into the crisp air….” The pool I swim in (Heather Farms)is outdoors and open 24/7/365. Some mornings we swim in 40 degree weather, but the pool is at 81 degrees. The only bad part is getting out and the rather-longer-than-I-would-like walk to the heated locker room. In the interest of full disclosure, I participate in one of those “old lady water aerobics” classes (did you really have to call it that? Ouch!). This morning’s class was so strenuous, that my legs felt weak for several hours afterward. It’s great excercize and not as wimpy as you may think.

    Hope you’re enjoying the white stuff!

    Bee 🙂

    Comment by Bee Hylinski — January 5, 2011 @ 6:08 pm | Reply

  4. Joanne, Well as much as i’ve heard about your writing (over lunches with our moms) this is my first opportunity to read some. How wonderful! Your parents’ humor and outlook on life is infused throughout. What a joy to read.

    Comment by Sallie Nissen Moran — January 8, 2011 @ 1:49 pm | Reply

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