From the Caribbean to Chicago on Christmas Eve (Winter Memories)
- 30th Anniversary of Chicago's Worst Winter on Record: 1978-79 (Chicago Tribune 11/30/2008)
When nearly 6 inches of snow fell on Nov. 26-27, no one dreamed that they would not see bare ground again for 100 days!
Like the Christmas Postcard
I have forgiven him, but I can never forget him. Actually, I have learned to like him, but I prefer that we never touch. I still remember how he, Old Man Winter, treated me the first time we met.
That was Christmas Eve, 1978. It was 84° Fahrenheit (29° Celsius) in the Caribbean. I flew away from the warmth of the sunshine knowing hardly anything about the mood of the Man I was going to meet.
I stopped in Miami to register my immigrant arrival, and continued on to Chicago where I was scheduled to change planes for a short flight to a suburban city in Michigan. But Old Man Winter intercepted. He held me captive in the second-worst snowy December Chicago has ever seen, with temperatures below zero.
First, he seduced me. Looking through the airplane window on our descent into Chicago O’Hare, I allowed myself to be mesmerized by the mysterious, shiny-white glitter framing everything below. I had seen it on Christmas postcards making beautiful structures look still more beautiful, and seeing it real for the first time was exhilarating.
I was anxious to get closer and begin mingling. In my excitement, I forgot the Caribbean saying that "See me and come live with me have two different meanings."
Old Man Winter held me captive in the second-worst snowy December Chicago has ever seen.
The Baby and the Blanket
We landed at O'Hare and I found the gate where I expected to board for the last leg of my journey. The airline agent informed me that there would be no more flights in or out of the airport for the rest of the day. I would have panicked less had I been alone, but I had my three-month old baby with me.
During the past six hours of flying, she had been as pleasant and cooperative as could be expected. I’d share with her the joy of experiencing our first American Christmas (her first Christmas ever), and she would smile in agreement with me. She looked happy in my protection, and I thanked God that she seemed to have my easy-going attitude. Now her food was running out, and she would rather starve than breastfeed. Nervously, I tightened the blanket around her.
Oh the blanket! You would have laughed, if you had seen what I thought was a thick baby blanket (emphasis on thick). Bear in mind that when the temperature drops to 70° Fahrenheit (21° Celsius) in the Caribbean, folks bring out their sweaters and blankets. I learned later, by comparison with authentic winter items, there are no thick sweaters or blankets in the Caribbean.
Not knowing how long it would be before our 40-minute flight, I made myself comfortable, close to a public telephone. It took me some time to understand the operator’s speech. Yes, Caribbean people have problems with other people’s dialect, too. Eventually, my collect call got through and my relatives informed me that they would drive to Chicago O'Hare to pick up my baby and me.
Meanwhile, passengers in delay walked around canvassing individuals going in the same direction to carpool. Someone approached me, telling me that if I wanted in, I only had to contribute toward the car rental, and be prepared to help drive the 96 miles to our destination. Me? Driving on snow I had never seen or touched? I remembered the Caribbean calypso:
“The only time I see snow is when I buy snow cone down de street.”
Lucky for all of us that my ride was already confirmed. All my attention now turned toward my baby, trying to keep her comfortable. We cuddle and talked. She slept, she woke, she smiled and slept again. After what seemed like an eternity, my two relatives showed up. We hugged, then they dressed us in the winter coats they had brought.
“You have no idea what it means to be cold. Do you hear me? Understand that this is the first time you really will be cold.” My cousin sounded serious.
My cousin’s warning was appropriate. Old Man Winter grabbed me and wrapped me in his frozen bosom. He stung me, scorched and iced me all at once (a feeble attempt to describe the inhuman sensation). Even inside the car, it was colder than I thought possible.
I hardly remember anything else until we arrived at our destination. We were all sleepy. Our trip which began on Christmas Eve ended during the early hours of Christmas morning. When I awoke, I was anxious to see winter by daylight.
Call me by any name you choose, but I thought that the wonderful view of silvery white snow on the branches, plus the cone-shaped icy heaps on the ground compensated for the horrendous hug I received the night before. It was love at first daylight sight.
Old Man Winter and I have spent 35 Christmases together. I seldom think about our Chicago meeting. I have grown to like the combination of Christmas and cold temperatures. In my opinion, the biting cold is worth the uniquely glorious, uncontrollable images crafted by the snow.
This Christmas in the Caribbean, I will miss the splendor of snow and winter. I will miss the playful shapes of icicles hanging from the rooftops and the trees. I will sing with nostalgia the carol that mentions "chestnuts roasting on an open fire." I will actually long for my favorite winter views of heaping snow on a dark road, on a moonlight night.
Sure, I love winter and always will—especially from a distance.
© 2014 Dora Isaac Weithers