hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

February 7, 2013

Turn up the heat -- we don't live in a barn

By Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — B-r-r-r!

I just got the chill of a lifetime.

I saw my next-door neighbor in his shorts and t-shirt, spreading salt over his frozen driveway.

Had I not known any better, I would have assumed he was feeding chickens on his farm. The fact it was in the teens with a wind chill factor of zero made no difference to this living iceberg.

Nor the fact I was bundled up in a flannel shirt with a sweater, wearing corduroy pants and woolen socks. I looked like an Eskimo huddled over the kitchen stable — I mean table — enjoying my hot breakfast.

I say stable because as hard as I’ve tried, weatherproofing and all, I still get a draft from the windows that are supposed to be airtight. The heat’s cranked up to 70 and still I can’t get warm.

“I think there’s someone at the door,” I blurt out.

“You’re out of your mind,” comes the response. “That’s only the wind howling and rapping at our door. Leave the morning paper on the porch. Open the door and we’ll be thrown inside an igloo.”

People who claim that old-fashioned winters were harder to take probably heated with coal and wood stoves. That’s what we did back then. Long-johns were worn.

I live in a courtyard where neighbors are friends. The guy next door is another cold weather buff. But even on this day, I caught him outside in pants with a stocking cap over his ears.

Different strokes for different folks, I guess. You can tell a person’s true colors when it comes to the winter’s cold. I know another fellow who doesn’t own a long-sleeve shirt. He shows up everywhere in short sleeves: Church, dances, house parties and formals.

He tells me the cold doesn’t bother him and that he’s got a warm heart. Even his home is a little on the nippy side. He keeps the thermostat at a chilly 65 and, if you feel the cold, grab a sweater. I don’t think it’s the rising cost of fuel that sways his thinking. He just enjoys being cool.

I had a mailman the same way. He made his rounds in the dead of winter with only a t-shirt. Watching him saunter from door to door in his flimsy apparel gave you the shivers. Maybe it was the constant movement that kept him warm. But it made the rest of us only colder.

What is it about those L Street Brownies that drives them into the ocean on New Year’s Day? They’ve been doing it for years, taking the plunge regardless of how frigid conditions may be. A quick dip in the summer is all I can tolerate. Given a choice, I prefer the comfort and warmth of a lake.

My grandmother was one of those who could never get warm, not even under a sun lamp. She’d be sitting in the car with an afghan over her knees, complaining about how cold it was. The fact it was mid-July and cars didn’t come equipped with air-conditioning back in the 1950s paid no concern.

Back then, you’d lower the window a notch to get ventilation and the more air you tried to get, the more she would complain. I can hear her now.

“Please put your window up. I’m freezing back here.”

I’d leave it open a crack or suffocate on my journey, only to hear her lament. “All the way up — tight!” Good thing she wasn’t in a convertible with the top down.

We were the only house on the block that had the thermostat cranked up over the summer. My only source of relief from our sweatbox was to adjourn to the cellar and set up a sofa there to relax.

I often wondered what it would be like living in a place called Resolute, Canada — the coldest inhabited place on earth — even colder than Iceland, Siberia and the North Pole.

The average temperature there, according to Guinness records, is minus 11.6 degrees, causing its inhabitants to remain constantly bundled up. Located on the northeast shore of Resolute Bay on the south coast of Cornwallis Island, this community is commonly a starting point for expeditions to the North Pole.

In the winter, it can stay dark for 24 hours and in summer, it can stay light the entire night. Only about 200 people brave the climate year-round, but the area is becoming quite popular with tourists.

I suspect they want to see what the coldest spot in the world feels like. Had it been Eureka, Canada, forget it. The best they can do is minus 3.5 degrees.

If you’re cold in winter, just wait. What comes in one “year” goes out the other.

Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.