Column: Getting out of bed in the cold


The bedroom was chilly the other morning after the temperature outside had plummeted into the single digits the night before. I seriously considered diving back under the covers and hibernating until spring.

While shivering my way through making the coffee and letting the dog out, I recalled what it was like getting up when I was a kid.

In the North Woods of Wisconsin we had a wood-burning stove in the living room. That is what heated the house. The fire usually went out at night and dad had to shovel the ashes from the bottom of the stove, put crumpled paper and kindling on the grate and add heavier wood as the blaze began to build.

Warmth began to ooze from the stove after a few minutes. That’s when he would roust me out of bed.

If you’ve never been in the northern regions of Wisconsin in January, let me paint you a picture. Frost formed on the walls, and the windows congealed with thick ice. We used to stick pennies on the windows in the winter, and collect them when the ice melted in the spring.

The trick was to get out of bed without getting frostbite. I kept a pair of cotton socks under my pillow, and before I stuck my nose out from under the covers, I slipped them onto my feet.

Then I wrapped a blanket around my shoulders, grabbed my clothes and raced into the living room where I slipped cozily behind the stove.

The uniform for January in the North Woods started with long johns, red wooly ones that caused a more or less permanent rash in delicate places. Then came the flannel shirt, long sleeved and buttoned at the collar. The pants were corduroy lined with more flannel. Finally, the wool sweater and wool socks, long ones that pulled up over the long johns.

Once I was dressed and dad had adjusted the damper on the stove so it wouldn’t melt, we went into the kitchen where mom was trying to pretend she enjoyed standing near zero temperatures while having it out with a balky wood-burning cook stove. More than once our oatmeal was only partially cooked, and mom had a look in her eye that said she was close to committing mayhem.

We left Wisconsin a short time later and moved into a house that had central heating. I haven’t put socks under my pillow nor worn red wooly long johns since then.

Of course, I’ve never been back in Wisconsin in January, either.


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