Published Jan 22, 2020 while I lived on The Crystal Coast
Today is day three of winter temps here in Beaufort, NC. We were thinking last week that we might avoid winter entirely, but a blast from the north has pushed the water back into the Sound and a blustery breeze has scoured the sand dunes for the last three days.
I say this all the time, but there was no mention of winter in the brochure when I moved down here. I thought I was moving to permanent summer with a twist of fall every once and again, but this is the third winter where I have had to break out the mittens and boots, and I resent every moment I waste putting on a coat to check the mail.
As a boy in Connecticut, I loved the cold, because it meant that snow was close behind. I hated school, and each little flake was a blessing from Heaven above if it meant that a snow day was coming. By the time I reached driving age, the snow had lost some of its luster. When I graduated from high school three weeks late due to snow days, I was outright disgusted by it.
That summer was my report-in day to the USCGA and I had less than a week between when I walked in my graduation robes and when I donned my combination cover for swab summer due to an unusually snowy winter. That was my first understanding of the annual ramifications of weather phenomenon, and ever since then, I have detested the winter in all its frigid misery.
My Dad painted this, and I think in a lot of ways, he would love where
I lived. It is just a shame he never got to this spot while he was alive.
My father, a dark and tempestuous soul, direct from the grayness of Eastern Europe, spoke of his Uncle's advice when it came to winter, "Count the winters, they last longer". My father suffered from depression and alcoholism, no doubt symptoms of his dark heritage and the New England climate, and passed on from this world never really knowing the warmth in his soul of a Caribbean Sunset. But perhaps that was his blessing, because as Willy Nelson tells us, "I wouldn't curse the sunshine if I never felt the rain."
Depression was a theme in my house growing up. The whole family should have been on mood-altering medication, but instead found respite at the bottom of a scotch bottle. Admitting our damage to a therapist was an admission of weakness, but cancer and cirrhosis were badges of honor among the cloudy souls of my New England ancestry. Winter was our proof that we as a people were just bitter enough to scare off the devil himself, therefore God's chosen few.
But when the winter claimed the last vestiges of Connecticut Community Boating in 2012, and I was shoveling three feet of snow on Halloween from my driveway in Ashford, CT, I knew that I was not of these hard and hearty souls and must head south. There was no pride in letting the cold New England winter wear me down, and so I packed my world and my Mom and headed to North Carolina, where the winds blew off the Gulf Stream and palm trees framed the beach-side tee-shirt shop parking lots.
Little did I know that winter would visit with such vengeance that first year, I would have to thaw my water pump in order to make coffee. Follow that by a Hurricane each fall and 95-degree heat with 99 percent humidity the rest of the year, and the cold New England winters seemed to moderate in comparison somehow. I soon learned that the palm trees were replaced annually for the tourist's benefit and had no more place on a NC beach than did my father with his New England sensibilities. But I also learned that the seasons are just a way to mark time and while the winters are longer in New England, the summers are the major timekeeper in North Carolina. My perspective of paradise changed, and I realized life on the East Coast is hard regardless of the temperature.
I also learned, when I came to North Carolina, that winter had little to do with my family's claim on depression and more likely it was a hereditary deficiency in thyroid hormones that was more likely the cause. Had my father received a thyroid supplement as my sister and I have, he might have beaten the winter doldrums and found his way to a warmer climate and mindset. But as he is dead now and reduced to the dust we all will be someday, I can't know for sure if his depression would have been cured by some sort of pill and a sunny day.
I do know this, however. I have smacked my thumb in sub-zero temperatures with a hammer, and in 90-degree heat as well. The pain was excruciating at either temperature, but at 90 degrees, the recovery was that much easier. A warm breeze and a sandy beach puts the pain of a smashed thumb from your mind in a way that a frozen driveway and dead battery can't.
It is this logic that I use when I say, if I could have gotten my Dad to a warmer place, he may not have been cured of depression and alcoholism. But he would have been that much more comfortable with the warm sun to soothe him and a soft breeze to calm his nerves.
It is not where you live that fixes the things that cause your soul to ache. It is easier, however, to take the aches of a soul, in a Hawaiian shirt with a suntan. Winter rages outside in a place that I once thought was as perfect as a paradise. I thought by leaving the darkness of New England, I would find happiness and forever summer in the South, but still, the winds blow, and the temperature drops. My hands are freezing, and my nose is running. I have found happiness however on this cold and wintry Carolina coast with my new wife, my two dogs, and my tiny little cottage by the sea.
In a few days, the weather here will be back to 70 and sunny. Then the summer 90s will be here soon after, as we jump from winter to summer without so much as a few days of Spring. I didn't leave my dark New England ways when I came here, but I learned it's easier to live with them, if I can just make it through the seven days of winter we get each year.
The weather is just the world around us, but the temperature of my soul is warmed by the Carolina climate.