Helping my sister, Linda, load some packages into her car last week, I planned to toss my armload of stuff into the trunk, then hightail it back inside the house before succumbing to hypothermia.

"Be right back!" I called to Doug, pulling the front door shut behind me.

"Wait! Put on your ..." he hollered back just as the door closed. In retrospect, I'm guessing that sentence ended with "coat."

Arranging a large box and several shopping bags in the trunk without having to leave the spare tire in my driveway took longer than I'd anticipated. Shivering, I gave Linda a parting hug and resolved to get back inside before my earlobes could freeze and snap off.

"Got everything?" I asked. The instant I said it, I realized it was a mistake; but now it was out there.

Linda and I share a genetic trait whereby even the specter of uncertainty meant we were obliged to go through everything, item by item, to be certain she hadn't forgotten something.

We pulled out everything we'd painstakingly positioned so the trunk would close, then put each article back in again. Only this go-round, nothing fit the way it did before. The entire payload had to be reconfigured — including removing and replacing the spare tire twice — to make sure nothing would move, pop the trunk latch and spill out on the ride home.

By then, I'd stopped shivering, and a feeling of otherworldly calm swept over me. I think it was the mammalian diving reflex kicking in. While I hallucinated a basket of warm-from-the-oven blueberry muffins beside a roaring fire, Linda fretted over the "razor-sharp" edge of a box harming her new Mustang's rear stereo speaker.

Marshaling the last spark of heat left in my body to keep my blood flowing, I planned to sprint back to the house. Surely Doug will pity me, I thought, and refrain from saying, "I told you so."

Another goodbye hug. Then I said, "Tell Alan I said hi."

Right there was where I made my mistake. The chances of Linda remembering, after an hour's drive, to give my "hi" to her hubby were slim to none; whereas the chances of my needing a toe amputation due to frostbite were getting to nearly 100 percent.

What's more, the second those words passed my chapped, blue lips, I'd opened another whole can of worms, the one labeled, "You'll Never Guess What Stupid Thing Alan Did This Time."

What could I do? We're sisters. I'm supposed to be supportive.

Plus, she's listened to, "You'll never believe what Doug did. ..." ad infinitum. It's our favorite topic of conversation, next to, "That kid is going to kill me."

So there I stood, nodding in sympathy as Linda told her tale of woe: sent to the store for milk, bread and juice, my brother-in-law had returned with ... Oh, never mind. You might be reading this outdoors, and I don't want you freezing to death.

The important thing is, even as my life ebbed, I listened attentively to Linda's soliloquy on Alan's latest innocent blunder (and the dubious usefulness of husbands in general). And somehow, having a near-death experience enabled me to unravel a mystery facing womankind since the first caveman was sent out for mastodon only to return with a pretty rock.

My deeply insightful conclusion? "Men. You can't live with 'em, and you can't shoot 'em." Oh, yeah, and I caught a terrible cold.