A column last week about a 35-year-old parka that has kept me toasty since I bought it as a teenager prompted readers to share their stories of old coats and dealing with frigid temperatures.
I shivered reading some of them. One reader described having to fix missile sites at Minot, N.D., in the mid 1960s. Merely mouthing the word "Minot" is enough to make me fire up the space heater. Is there a colderlocale on the planet? Minot has got to rank right up there.
But my personal choice for the most shivvery winter story comes from Jim and Peg Buck, Leesburg residents who once lived in the Thousand Islands of New York. That's the archipelago of islands in the St. Lawrence River along the U.S.-Canada border.
Canada. Another chilly word.
Here's what Jim has to say:
"Our worst experience was in the winter of 1967-68. We experienced a week in which the temperature reached minus-56 degrees and never got above minus-36 degrees for the entire week.
"We were renting half of an old mansion with no insulation and 12-foot ceilings. Snow blew in through the cracks around the front window and made a pile on the living room floor.
"My wife and I spent the week next to a big fire in the fireplace. The living room never got above 60 degrees, even with the fire going constantly in the fireplace, and the cat's water bowl in the kitchen was frozen.
"We taught school that week wearing our coats, gloves and boots in the classroom.
"Yes, our 2010 freeze is awful, but cold is, after all, relative. We could be back up North again."
Maybe you can, Jim. I would rather stick a fork in my eyeball.
And here are stories from other readers:
Minot and missiles spell hypothermia
From 1964 to 1968, I was in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. My job involved working at Minuteman missile sites all times of the year. Wintertime was the most difficult period to travel to and work at the remote missile sites due to the extreme cold temperatures and often blizzard conditions in that part of the country.
My coldest-ever experience — one that I vividly recall every time our winter temperatures dip — occurred one winter night in 1967 when my three-man team was dispatched to a missile site that required immediate maintenance.
It was a cold cold day to begin with, but by the time we were closing up the missile site, it was quite late at night, windy, and even colder. The thermometer temperature was minus-50 and the wind produced a minus-20 wind chill, resulting in what felt like minus-70.
The best USAF cold-weather parka and accessories did little to keep our bodies much warmer than bone-chilling. Even inside our vehicle, with the heater on full blast, we still shivered uncontrollably.
Back then, I don't think the word hypothermia had been invented yet — at least I don't recall ever having heard the term used till years later.
Now, in retrospect, I know that the three of us barely avoided being stricken by hypothermia or frostbite. It's a good thing we didn't. Back in those days, frostbite was a court-martial offense — destruction of government property.
Parker R. Lichtenstein
Only owners can understand
When I was shipped to Korea in 1957 by the Air Force, I was issued a khaki almost-to-the-ground parka, but a guy in my Quonset hut worked in supply, and about two months after my arrival I received a brand-new blue "navigators" parka, the one you so aptly described.
What a Godsend! I kept and used that parka every winter in Cleveland until we retired and moved here to Leesburg in 2006. Many is the football game I spent in the warmth of that coat at old Municipal Stadium back in the day when the Browns could beat the Steelers more often than not.
Only someone who actually, really owned and wore such a coat can appreciate its value. We were certainly among the chosen few.
And during that January 1979 stretch you described in Chicago, I was a salesman working the International Housewares Show at McCormick Place. Without question those were the most miserable 10 days I ever spent in Chicago, which happens to be my favorite city in the U.S. I didn't have my coat — those were the days when businessmen wore suits and ties. I sure could have used it.
11 days of ice makes the decision
In 1994, my wife and I owned two homes in New England, one on Cape Cod and the other in Maine. We sold the Cape home and were debating whether to retire in Maine or Florida.
In January 1998, Maine had an ice storm, and we were without power for 11 days. To give you an idea of its severity, single blades of grass coated with ice were as round as one's finger. The wires leading to our home were 3 inches in diameter. We practically lived in our country kitchen with its wood stove.
As soon as we were able we put a 'For Sale' sign on the house, we sold it and moved to Kings Ridge in September that year. The decision to move south was made for us by those 11 days.
Pittsburgh pitches in for cleanup
The day after Thanksgiving 1950,it started to snow and snow, until there were 30 inches of the stuff all over Pittsburgh.
We were living in an apartment on Amber Street in the East Liberty district of Pittsburgh at the time. Everything was paralyzed.
The then-mayor David Lawrence came on the radio and asked the citizens to start shoveling the streets in front of their dwellings so that fire and rescue vehicles could get through. We were convinced that the man was out of his mind and expecting the impossible.
Nonetheless, I borrowed our landlady's snow shovel and started on her steps and sidewalk. I was encouraged to see others doing the same thing in front of their places. It was not too long before that was accomplished, so we started on the street.
To my surprise, it became fun, and everyone was shoveling at a surprisingly fast pace. Darned if we didn't get that whole long block opened all the way to Baum Boulevard. The next day we did the alleyways that paralleled Amber Street.
It was a lesson we have never forgotten — that the impossible is often doable.
Dot and Karl Wassman
Montana boy takes on Windy City
I went to Northwestern University Dental School four years at the Chicago campus on Lakeshore Drive, near Navy Pier, in the 1950s for my DDS degree. Then I spent another two years 1973-75 at Loyola University in Maywood, Ill., for a master's degree in oral biology.
Being a Montana boy, I was ready for cold weather.
In the '50s I showed up for dental school wearing a quilted, down-filled coat with a fur collar bought from Eddie Bauer. I looked like one of those Chinese Army men invading North Korea. I was the only warm one on that cold walk in the Chicago wind from the dorm to the Ward Building. Those six years in the Chicago area were probably more unpleasant than any time in Montana — it was so damp.
It was far colder in Montana, however. When my wife, Norma, and I lived in Wolf Point, in extreme northeastern Montana, she worked as an RN at a small 45-bed hospital. It was only a three-block walk, but in the winter she would take the car to be more comfortable.
She also had a parka similar to the Antler brand and always wore it to work. One evening when it was time to head home, the car wouldn't start, and the temperature was around minus-30 degrees.
She walked home, down the middle of the street in the traffic ruts in the snow. She figured that in case she fell, a car might see her before she turned into a block of ice.
J. Nevin Thompson
New boots languish in the attic
We moved to Casselberry in June 1978 from the frozen tundra in Rochester, N.Y., after the winter of 1977-78 almost killed me.
The snow came down relentlessly, and the snow banks on either side of our driveway was so high, thanks to the city snow plows, that one day one of my side-view mirrors was snapped off.
There was no adult male in the house that winter to use our snow blower, but I made an arrangement with my neighbor across the street to clean our driveway after he cleaned his own. When he finished, I had to clean the snow off my next-door neighbor's dinning room windows with a broom. It was almost too cold to breathe.
Most of our winter clothes were devastated by the end of that winter, and we threw them away when we moved. My sons' boots were relatively new and were tossed in the crawlspace of our home in Casselberry when we moved in.
These boots were, of course, thrown away when we moved to Lake Mary 11 years later.
I don't go up North any more. I did go to Salt Lake City for Christmas last year and experienced snow again. What we don't do for our children.
I am a Southern girl, South Florida born and raised. My memories are of my aunt visiting during the winter and insisting I take her to the beach. So my boyfriend and I sat on a blanket with sweatshirts on (the most I ever remember having to wear), and my aunt went swimming. We thought she was nuts.
I know we had some cold weather when I was growing up, but I don't ever remember needing a coat unless we were going out at night during a cold snap.
Move the bag and come on in
Having grown up in Wilmington, Del., and attended law school in St. Louis, I thought I was accustomed to the cold when I joined a Chicago area law firm in June 1981.
Boy was I wrong.
What stands out to me was January 1982. Ryan, our oldest, was born in December and we set his christening for the second Sunday in January. My first inkling of what was to come was when I left our house in Wilmette for my daily 3-mile run on Saturday morning. My nostrils froze together, and I cut it short.
By the time I got home, the wind had picked up and was howling through every crack of that little tiny starter home in Wilmette. I had to duct tape a plastic trash bag over the front door and several windows.
The came the day of the Baptism. The wind chill was minus -67 degrees! When we arrived at St. Joseph's, our parish, we left the cars running outside for the ceremony. The baptismal font was too close to the side door, so Father Tom grabbed a makeshift water basin and moved the ceremony to the center of the church.
Our friends were hardy enough to come to the house for the christening party afterward. We would peel away the trash bags from the doors to allow each in. I don't remember many of them taking off their outer coats. I do recall that many of them switched from beer and wine to whiskey and tequila for the imagined warming properties.
Richard F. Joyce
Just can't part with this coat
I bought a heavy canvas Army surplus coat with a fur-lined hood, using my paper route money ($3.25 for six days a week serving the Baltimore Sun after school) when I was 11 years old.
We weren't poor, but there were five kids and one paycheck. I still have that heavy coat in my closet. Even though I haven't been able to wear it for 50 years, I just could not part with it.
I believe I learned more about money in those days than all the education I've had since.
Moving North? Pull out the picture
I have a picture of myself standing next to a friend that was taken 17 years ago, during the last winter I spent in my hometown of Lowell, Mass.
I took the picture so I would never forget the misery that I was leaving behind, and I never have.
I've gratefully enjoyed all of the last 16 winters here in Florida, no matter how cold they've gotten, because I remembered that picture.
I carry mail for a living, a lot of which has to be delivered outdoors, not in a vehicle. The other day I actually delivered in sleet. I nearly froze to death because I had to wear a rain jacket over just a sweatshirt since it wouldn't fit over my heavy coat.
On a recent morning I had a flashback to what it was like to be snowed in with no power in a snowstorm because I had a power outage. Luckily, I didn't have to get ready for work, and it came back on in about an hour and a half.
I can't remember a cold snap in Florida that lasted this long or was so very cold. The forecasters are predicting temperatures in the 70s by Friday. Let's hope they're right so I can get back to being grateful I live in Florida.
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