My Texas Heat

Little bits of white paper were flying crazily about the highway as I drove yesterday. Some were small enough that for a moment I thought it was snowing even though my air conditioner was on and outside, the temperature was unseasonably warm. Seeing them made me nostalgic for winter which was very unlike me because, I'm most definitely not a fan of cold weather nor of snow.

When I was a fairly young woman and about to start my university studies, I thought I wanted to become a simultaneous interpreter. Some other time I'll tell you what had made think I could be one but for the purpose of this story, all you need to know is that with this wish in mind, I'd applied and been accepted to a prestigious university program in Grenoble, France.

You probably know how it is. You finish your high school and you are just itching to test whether you are grownup enough to make it out in the real world without the parents. Somehow, I'd actually convinced myself up until the point where I wimped out, that I wanted both the separation and independence from them when in truth, I wasn't at all prepared to stretch my proverbial wings.

I thought about it too late but the closer departure time came, the further away Grenoble seemed. It was in the Alps... high up... in France! I'd never lived in Europe and I was mostly used to sea-level altitudes and tropical heat. How was I ever going to make a life there, so far from my family and everything I knew?

It's true that I'd gotten much self-important mileage from being spoken about as the daughter that was going to study in Europe but, when push actually came to shove, I realized this counted for little and I balked at leaving. That's how I ended up in Canada instead of France. Bonjour Québec.

After confessing my true chicken-heartedness, my indulgent parents discarded their initial efforts to get me to Grenoble and found me a Frenchy alternative within this continent. I didn't deserve it but their forbearance had a hand in placing me and my suitcases in the home of a Madame Thérèse Lacroix one afternoon in the fall of 1990.

Thérèse Lacroix was a friend of a friend of my parents. The mother of six children, she and her husband had only the youngest daughter still living with them and a large home with several empty bedrooms that had not been occupied for many a year. One of these she opted to rent out to me as a favor to hers and my parent's, mutual friend. At the airport, I remember seeing her nodding approvingly at my wintry getup as I arrived. I wore a hat that my mother had given me, gloves, a scarf, a thick turtleneck sweater, some sturdy oxford style shoes, dark tights, a woolen skirt and a heavy weather coat. I had come prepared, or so I thought, for winter.

As-tu des bottes? No, I'd brought no boots with me I replied, as she tut-tutted loudly at their absence from my belongings. Il faut que tu les achettes aussitôt possible. As soon as possible I was to buy myself some boots, she said. At that time, I had no clue why she seemed so fixated on the whole boot issue but I ignored it because I had more pressing things to worry about in my initial days of settling in. It wasn't until the first snowfall that I finally understood why boots were so important.

I wonder if you've ever heard of the Peninsula of Kamchatka? For the geographical layman, it's in Russia and for the non-weather trivia inclined, it receives about 110 inches of precipitation yearly, mostly in the form of snow. That's a lot of snow. Approximately 9 feet or more of it. Go ahead, take a guess as to which other part of the world comes in at a close second for the snowfall title of the year? Good guess! - Québec.

...So, I plastered my nose against the window and marveled at the wintry blizzard raging outside. It was beautiful. A perfect traffic stopping, stay-at-home with a steaming cup of chocolate and light-up-the chimney, kind of storm. In Washington DC where I'd had my first snow experiences, I'd never seen anything that could compare to this. Within just a couple of hours a thick blanket of powdery whiteness covered everything and it seemed like life should have come to a standstill. I had short-lived visions of staying inside my new home for the next couple of days and weathering it out. No such luck. In Québec, heavy snowfall of the constantly accumulating kind, does not, I repeat, does not, interrupt daily life. If it were to, as Madame Lacroix so sagely pointed out, nothing would get done. It snowed all the time in Québec during that winter, the snow never stopped falling and the air never heated enough for it to melt. I had to live with it and wade around in it and basically, struggle through its incredible quantities.

For the next four months, before I started begging my parents to let me come back home, I roughed it out in sub-zero conditions and more snow than some people will see in a lifetime. I survived, semi-thawed, by learning my way through the underground tunnels that crisscross the city and which allow its inhabitants to get from point A to B without having to walk above ground. I also got myself a pair of impermeable, plastic-soled, fleece-lined, knee-high boots. Though I sank into deep snow at almost every turn, my feet and legs remained dry for the most part and I was so grateful for my boots that I've kept them after all these years.

Because of the time that I lived in Québec, the very idea of snow metamorphosed completely within my head. It went from picturesque to inconvenient nuisance, from romantically atmospheric to a portent of gloom. I grew to dread the unending snowfall and the tall walls of dirty snow piled so high it franked all sidewalks and streets. Snow, snow, interminable snow everywhere. Are you truly blaming me for wimping out again and wishing to leave?

My parents certainly didn't and, at the end of the semester I bid Madame Lacroix a fond, if hasty farewell, quit Québec City and went back home where I congratulated myself on my narrow escape from death by ice coffin and told everyone how I'd happily live in a snow-less place for the rest of my life.

Today, through no design of my own, you find me here in Houston. Snow has fallen once and only fleetingly, in the four years that I've lived here. I haven't missed the snow, truly... I'll just chalk up yesterday's longing to temporary insanity on my part while I continue to wilt gracefully in this, my Texas heat.

For an audio version of this post click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leaving a Leaping Thought's worth