Warm memories of coldness

Published 6:14 pm Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I slipped on my sweat pants for the first time this year Saturday as I prepared to run in Joyce’s Jog, the race in honor of my brother’s sister in law, who passed away several years ago from breast cancer.

OK, so it was the one-mile race instead of the 5K, and I did walk instead of run, but it was still fun.

There was a huge turnout, the air was brisk, and there was anticipation everywhere we looked as Donalsonville prepared for its annual Harvest Festival. I wasn’t first and didn’t wind up last, so I guess you could say it was a success for me. I returned home, showered and changed into shorts thinking the day would warm up.

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Perhaps it is the advancing years, but I got so cold that the feeling really didn’t pass until the following morning. People kept telling me that they had only seen one other man in shorts during the entire day.

As I warmed up under two comforters that evening, I got to thinking about the times in my life that I really had been cold. The first was Pledge Night at my fraternity at Auburn. The SAE house sits on a lake near campus. It was an unusually cold night in January and the pledges were playing gator in the lake. Not by choice, mind you, as the only premise of the game was for pledges to duck under the freezing water when a brother yelled “Gator.”

I am hopeful that pledges learn about the value of brotherhood in a more humane and responsible way these days, although I must admit that every time I see one of my old friends we talk about that night fondly.

One of those friends and I decided to do a six-week road trip to the West Coast during the summer. Although his idea of roughing it was a Holiday Inn, he did agree to camp at least part of the way. The first night in the woods was in the mountains above Colorado Springs.

The wind howled so hard that we had to stand next to each other to keep my stove lit. We could only cook one thing at a time because the food would get cold before we could cook anything else. That night the ground froze solid. A week later, I finally convinced him to give it another try. It snowed two feet that night. What fun we had.

After Mary Lou and I were married, we visited England with some friends. We took the train to Scotland, arriving in Edinburgh at almost midnight. We found our way to a bed and breakfast completely unaware of what our accommodations would be like.

The heat in the house had been cut off earlier in the night as we were led to our room. I can still see the enormous arched window that dominated the room. The nearly full moon lit up the frost that had already formed on the inside of the glass.

We snuggled under the weight of an enormous comforter and marveled at the sight before us. If you have ever seen the movie, “Dr. Zhivago,” then you know what this room looked and felt like.

Many years later, I took my youngest daughter, Elizabeth, camping with me. We backpacked on the trail for a few miles and camped by the side of a creek. Just before dusk, a group of college age kids stopped at the same site. They were all from the FSU Flying High Circus.

Imagine the excitement in a young kid’s eyes as she watched them perform tricks around the campfire. She will tell you today, our meal of macaroni and cheese was the best she has ever eaten.

As we got into our tent and sleeping bags, she removed her socks. I told her it was going to be very cold that night, but she insisted saying she could not sleep with socks on her feet. I knew better than to argue the point.

It was below freezing that night. I remember how cold she was. I put the end of my sleeping bag over her feet to keep her warm. It was a great weekend.

Finally, I had hiked in the rain all day on the Appalachian Trail. I got into the lean-to shelter just before dark and all of a sudden was so cold I could hardly move. Hypothermia sneaks up on even experienced hikers.

An older gentleman helped me into my sleeping bag and fed me hot soup. I don’t know his name or where he was from, but the kindness of a stranger helped me recover from what was surely the most intense cold I have ever felt.

It is interesting that when I recollect five of the most uncomfortable times of my life I remember them with pleasure. It wasn’t the cold of the air, but the warmth of the hearts of those people around me makes these memories special. That seems like a good trade anytime.

Dan Ponder can be reached at dan@ponderenterprises.net