Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Still there. Still here.

My cheeks were burning from the cold. I can't even call my feet "feet" because they felt more like two frozen bricks strapped to each of my ankles. At least my hands had quasi-feeling since I'd remembered the sage advice about mittens over gloves. Damn, it was cold. And all of this I had to brave for the less than six minutes it would take me to get from my car to the hospital.

What happened to me?

This is what I asked myself with a shake of my head. Sure, I'm a California native--in fact, a Southern California one, no less. But I'm also the same person who spent five full years in Cleveland, Ohio with lake effect snow and bitter, bitter cold days. Back then my skin had thickened enough to tolerate a jaunt from the parking lot in thread bare scrubs and not much else on days that were, literally, freezing. Hell, a lot of days.

But now? Pssfffuh. A decade in Atlanta returned me to my Cali girl roots. I mutter expletives when checking the mail in temperatures under forty and own more forms of hand protection for cold weather than I ever did in Cleveland. Dude. What happened to me?

I think the body is like an old house. It sort of needs to be weatherized for cold-cold weather and, like those old houses I used to live near in Cleveland, it takes time, money and energy. Really warm clothes. Long johns and wool stuff. And just a body that's had a shift in mojo to tolerate the cold-cold. For a fleeting artic-ish blast in the bible belt, that doesn't really happen since it's not worth the hassle. So our solution? We close the schools and simply freak out when the cold-cold does a drive-by shooting on us down here.

Mmm hmmm.

That said, now that I'm a cold weather wimp, my time in Cleveland still gives me the authority to talk junk when schools close here. My kids were out of school yesterday--not because of snow but because of the cold-cold. So, of course, I had my share of yeah-I-used-to-live-in-cold-ass-Cleveland jokes.

"My kids' school is closed. Not for a snow day. But for a cold day. What the heck!"

I told my students this yesterday and they laughed. "Hey, Dr. M--do kids have to make up 'cold days?'"

My response was an eyeroll and a shake of my head. Because even though I'm not weatherized anymore, my offspring need to be going to school when I have five trillion post holiday season things to do at work. Cold or not.

I'm just saying.

So anyway. Where was I? Oh. The cold morning, yes. The bright side is that I trucked it as fast as I could from the parking lot into Grady. And just as I approached the front door, I saw this Grady elder standing outside and rubbing his hands together. His leathery hands weren't covered with gloves or mittens. And I could tell from the deep valleys in his cheeks and sunbeams from the corners of his eyes that he'd been a Grady elder just as long as I'd been an adult.

I studied him as I came closer. His hat was pulled down hard over his ears and his coat collar was flipped upward. Plumes of condensation blasted out of his mouth as he blew into those cold hands while his feet lightly bounced up and down in an effort to stay warm.

My first thought: Why is he standing out here in this cold?

But then again, maybe he was weatherized. Or something.

I offered him a quick, tight-lipped smile because I sort of couldn't figure out why he'd choose to be standing outside instead of inside. It's not like he was smoking or anything. So yeah. That was kind of weird but I decided to stay in my cold-ass lane.

"Good morning, beautiful."  His voice was silky yet crackly like an old record. More proof of his Grady elder designation. I loved it immediately. 

"Morning, sir," I replied. Fluffy clouds rolled out with each of my syllables. It was yet another reminder of how cold it was out there. I furrowed my brow and went ahead and scooted into his lane. "You just like standing out here in this cold like this?" I gave my shoulders an exaggerated shiver. Then I giggled for good measure.

"I kinda like feeling the extremes sometime," he said. "Remind me that I'm alive and that I still got my wits about me."

And when he said that I paused. I turned my body to face his so that he'd know that I was letting his point marinate. With my head cocked sideways and the corner of my mouth turned upward, I responded. "Wow. That's deep."

"Yeah. I steps out in the rain sometime, too. Jest to feel it on me, know what I'm sayin'? 'Specially a good hard rain in the summer. Like how the sun is out and it's warm one minute and then just pouring down the next?"

"I know just what you mean. And you go out in it?"

"Jest for a bit. Sometime longer. It's all God's creation. So I jest like to feel it and know I'm here. In my right mind, too." He pulled his hands up in that praying motion and gave them friction in front of his mouth once more. But not before offering me a big smile.

I quickly returned the favor. Right after I did, I felt the tips of my toes aching and my fingertips starting to tingle inside of my mittens.

"Well, sir, that hawk is jumping on my neck. I'm gonna have to take your word for us both being here and scoot on inside."

We both laughed when I said that. I pushed through the revolving doors and left him right there where he was. And he didn't even budge. Just as I turned the corner, I looked back to see if he'd come inside. But he hadn't. His feet were still planted in that same place while he looked from side to side and then, every so often, skyward. 

Still there. Still here. 


This, my friends, is Grady. Still there. Still here. And, man, I'm glad about it.

Happy Wintry Wednesday.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . .I've been enjoying this version of this classic performed by James Taylor (the original J.T.) and Natalie Cole. So silky and cozy. . . .it's one of my favorite songs for curling up on the couch with hot cocoa.

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