Monday, January 27, 2014

Frostbitten



Maybe I should classify this one as "funny" for Northerners, who think the kind of temperatures we've been having here are normal, but to some extent extreme weather is a question of what you're prepared for. We don't get weather like this every ten years, so we're not prepared for single-digit temperatures, and we really are cold...

Well, the last time I was here, the temperature was in the single digits when I left the computer center. Not a problem, I had my great thick Greensleeves shawl to keep me warm, and the computer center stayed open till 8:30, so my cousin who gets off work at 8 should've met me within half a mile from here, right? Only he didn't; when the weather's really bad he tends to work late. I walked and walked and walked, called my cousin, got no answer (which I took to mean he was working late in Nickelsville), walked some more, finally got a lift with someone else, but not before I was well and truly chilled. 

Next morning the temperature was still in the single digits when I woke up. Not a problem, wait for the sun to thaw things out. Oh, wow, it's 11 a.m., time to hit that road or stay home...wait a minute, it's still only 8 degrees Fahrenheit? (I think that's like -15 Celsius?) Time to stay home. On Friday I took a Big Freeze Day, which is like a snow day only, in this case, more worthwhile.

Saturday was relatively mild with temperatures even above the freezing point, which allowed about an inch of very wet snow to accumulate. I celebrated by spending most of the day sleeping. I hadn't slept during the night because when the outside temperature is below zero it's hard to get the warm room warm enough, and there's not a bed in the room with the wood stove.

Another thing that happens when the outside temperature is below zero is that the thermostat on a dear little Comfort Zone heater, which actually runs on "low" without starting on "high" wattage and jamming your circuits, hurray, becomes confused. On Thursday the heater had overheated and cut itself off twice during the night, so I'd left the heater dialled down to about 25% power during the day, then come in to find the indoor temperature hovering right around the freezing point...hadn't got much sleep that night either. I optimistically thought the thermostat just didn't understand the concept of running just enough to keep the temperature around 40 degrees (refrigerator temperature) so that things moved into the warm room during the Big Freeze, such as canned goods, don't freeze. I didn't want to think about the possibility that the heater might be reaching the end of its "life" expectancy prematurely because it had worked so hard for so long.

Well, around 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, the heater announced that that was the case. (It said RRRRR--crunch.) 

I figured I had two options: 

(1) Stand over the wood stove until morning. That way I wouldn't get any sleep, things in the warm room would freeze, and I'd still have to buy another heater. Gate City no longer has taxi service. We have a lot of nice retired people who will drive for people in some kinds of emergencies, but not the kind that involve ice and snow.

(2) Start walking to Kingsport. That way I wouldn't get any sleep, things in the warm room might freeze, but then again I know some people who drive from Gate City to Kingsport in the wee hours of the morning; if any of them was currently working the right shift they could drop me off in time that I might be able to buy a heater at Wal-Mart and get home before anything froze. Temperatures outside were back in the low single digits. I did not feel like walking to Kingsport. I told myself that digging up my dreaded boots would be the worst part, that once I'd put the boots on and started walking I'd keep warm. 

Actually, in terms of effects I'm still feeling on Monday evening, walking in the dreaded boots was the worst part. Dreaded boots were bought to please a client who thought shoes didn't protect my feet; they were very cheap, just thick rubber, so they shouldn't have been too hard to wear...in normal weather. Only of course they'd been out in the tool shed in this freezing weather, so they were frozen. Dreaded boots did not thaw out in use. They were stiff as boards, would not bend at the ankles, and left bruises wherever they made contact, which was all over. 

Of course I didn't make very good time in those boots. At 7 a.m. I'd walked only seven of the ten miles to Wal-Mart. No shift workers from Gate City were working on Sunday morning. At that point I thought, "Hey, Mother should be getting off work; she can drive out and meet me here," so as I called to leave her a message I finally saw someone who works at Wal-Mart, who offered me a lift.

I had very nice things to say about Wal-Mart during those three miles. Where I planned to buy the Honeywell heater that was guaranteed to run on "low" without cycling through "high," where half the yarn in the shawl that was keeping me from freezing at this point had come from...it's also where the dreaded boots had come from, but I didn't mention dreaded boots, which are not a pleasant subject. By that time I couldn't wait to peel them off and see whether I was bleeding yet.

So then I got into Wal-Mart and...they didn't have space heaters! They had moved them out to make room for a "seasonal" display of grills, garden gear, and cooling fans! In January! During a record cold wave! I suppose the thinking was "People want to look forward to summertime when they're shivering in a record cold wave," but hear this, Wal-Mart management: when people's hands and feet are beginning to freeze, they do not get into your little summertime fantasy with you, or at least not until they get their hands on the heater they came in to buy. They get into their own fantasies about you being forced to stomp around in frozen rubber boots until you leave a trail of blood on the ice.

The Wal-Mart in Kingsport is right next door to the Lowe's. I limped over to Lowe's. They had the same idiotic summertime fantasy thing going on, too. 

Desperation set in. I knew someone nearby who has central heating and also had a working space heater, strictly a luxury to warm up the bathroom. I went to that person's house and commandeered the heater. Oh, of course the person was home, knew I was coming, had left the door unlocked, and didn't even yell at me about stumbling through the front hall in dreaded boots. But if I'd had to break in and steal the heater I would have rationalized doing that.

That was Sunday. Although another friend took the heater and me home in a heated car, well before Sunday School started, I didn't feel warm. I did know enough not to do the stupid things Southerners typically do upon finding ourselves frostbitten for the first time...shoving our frostbitten extremities right into a fire or a pot of boiling water, e.g. I parked the heater next to the cot in the warm room, changed socks, wrapped up in a warm quilt, and lay down in front of the heater. Since the air in the warm room miraculously wasn't freezing yet, it took me only three or four hours to get warm enough to fall asleep. After that I spent the rest of the day, and the next night, sleeping in front of the heater...I did wake up enough to feed the cats.

It was not easy to motivate myself to come out to work this morning. Temperatures were above freezing, in that nice normal refrigerator range. Trench coat weather, as distinct from Greensleeves shawl weather. I just didn't feel right. The extremities had thawed out, but the stiffness and tension inside are only gradually starting to thaw out today.

So I got to the computer center late and probably won't accomplish what I meant to accomplish here anyway...but at least I've done my daily bit for charity...