These wind-whipped winter plains of Nebraska shape the character of a person more than any codification of why or why not. The temperature instructs on layering clothing; the wind on sealing channels between sleeve and glove or legging and boot.
I had not forgotten though it has been years since I arose to temperatures below zero or worked a day in single digits.
And though it might not stir the imagination like great sagas of man against nature, the visceral reaction to leaving a warm bed to suit up with long johns and wool socks and boots and outer clothing and overalls and vests and heavy coats, gloves and stocking hats requires some stout inner constitution.
Day after day after day after day for those living here in the Midwest there is work that goes on despite the weather, sometimes because of the weather. And there is no time off or calling in sick when the weather turns nasty. It’s there in that frozen cauldron that character evolves and a person learns who has their back.
When my good buddy T asked if I could help out on a remodel in Chester, NE, a few weeks back, it was 65 and sunny, and he road his motorcycle over to the job and back. I took the bait, imagining one of those Indian summer kind of Nebraska autumns, with crisp, pleasant mornings and warm afternoons with the smell of wood smoke lingering in the air.
When I landed in Lincoln it was 7 degrees and headed south.
And not the south I was used to.
I rented a car, shoulders hunched, exhaling white clouds of disbelief, and drove to my brother’s in Fremont. In the morning it was 3 below and he gave me a scraper with a small broom on the back to find the surface of my car. I had not forgotten, but the memories that flooded back were not warm and fuzzy.
“Winter driving conditions” is one of those ubiquitous northern terms worn so icy and smooth with repetition that it means everything while at the same time almost nothing. It’s how a Midwesterner drives most winters, and gives little thought to it. I gave it considerable thought, driving a rented car well below the speed limit on snow-packed icy roads up to visit Mother in Wayne, wondering if it would be possible to find a voodoo doll of T I could stick in cold storage.
I did finally get on down to the job, right on the Kansas-Nebraska border and the temp had gone right on up into the single digits above zero, an improvement of sorts. We sorted frozen lumber on frozen ground around frozen block.
But here’s the thing.
Once all is said and done and you’re in it, there’s still a job needs done.
And you do it.
And when you’re working with people who know how to work, those with rough hands and muddy boots, who live the poetry of Sandburg and laugh at the absurdity of life and adversity, the days that should be a grind fly by.
And those are the men with whom I have been privileged to work for a time.
…but I’m still very happy to be living in Florida.