So You Think Its Cold?

                 I have lived as far north as Minnesota, where I was born, all the way to the Florida Keys.  I am constantly hearing other people complain about “how cold it is.”   I am going to tell you about my “cold” day. 

                 It must have been a warm December in North Carolina in 1959.  December 16th to be exact.  I won’t soon forget the date.   I was  14 years old.  Anyway, Dad decided that we were going to go to Ocracoke Island, out on the outer banks, across Pamlico Sound.  Dad borrowed a 15 foot aluminum boat and a five horse Scott Attwater outboard motor.  We drove to the point of land that juts out into Pamlico Sound.

                 I will never forget the sight of that boat ramp out on that deserted shore.  Nothing but pine forest growing up to the water.  We were going to cross Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke Island.  We were behind the barrier islands so there was no surf, just a choppy sound.  We were heading out into the Sound with no land in sight.  After hours of motoring (to this day I hate Scott Attwater outboards), we finally saw a low-lying island.  It was the first land of any kind for hours.  It was an island.   Not a tree on the island.  It was more of a large sand bar.  At high tide the island got a whole lot smaller.

                 I told you that it was a warm December because I did not have gloves and we went gigging for flounder that night.  You know, wading out into shallow water with a lantern and three-pronged spear.  We would not have gone floundering this time if it had been cold in any way.  This night we did not get a single flounder.  This was the only time we ever went floundering and did not get a fish.  That was ominous in itself. 

                Later, Dad asked me if we should put up the tent.  We had a Marine Corps two-man tent.  Two shelter halves that buttoned together.  I told him “no”, that it was nice out that night.   I went to sleep.  A couple of hours later it turned cold.  No I don’t know how cold, but cold enough.  I had a nice Marine Corps “mummy style” sleeping bag.  As warm as they get.  It also started to rain.  I put the shelter half over me, but had to unzip the sleeping bag enough to get one arm out to hold the shelter half over me.  Yes, it was blowing.  Blowing pretty good.  That cold rain fell on the shelter half, ran down my arm that was holding the shelter half, and into my sleeping bag.  It was a long, cold, wet night. 

                When the sun came up the sky was covered by grey, fast moving clouds racing from the northwest.  I can picture it now after all these years.  It had slowed some.  Dad said we had better head back to the mainland.  He got no argument out of me.  We didn’t even try to fix breakfast.  We just packed up and headed for the mainland somewhere out there on the southwest horizon.  There was no land in sight for many hours.  For some reason which I do not remember, I had to hold onto something in the boat so I could not put my hands in my pockets.  That darned Scott Attwater outboard.  It seemed like I could get out and crawl faster than we were moving.  I sat there for hours with that wind and rain coming out of the northwest.  It started raining harder.  No rain gear at all.  We just endured the lashing rain and sat there in the slow moving boat.

                Land finally showed up on the horizon as a faint line.  Once in sight, it took forever for anything to take form.  I could finally distinguish pine trees.  How cold was it?  When Dad got us to the boat ramp he unlocked the car door for me.  I had no feeling in my hands at all.  I could not even feel the car door handle much less push the button and pull the handle.  Yes, I have a very distinct image of what a 57 Ford station wagon door handle looks like.  It is burned into my memory.  Dad finally opened the door from the inside.  He started the car up and got the heater going.  A slight crisis arose.  The car was warming up but I had been sitting for hours in that boat.   Guess what you cannot do when you don’t have any feelings in your hands?  You can’t pull down a zipper on a pair of pants.  It was a near thing, but I didn’t want the embarrassment of a lifetime in addition to an already unforgettable day. 

                Dad finally got the Coleman stove going in the back of the station wagon. By then the rain was coming down heavier, pounding on the car roof.  He cut up some potatoes and poured in a couple of cans of stewed tomatoes.  It was one of the best meals I ever ate in my life.

                This was my benchmark for what I consider “cold”.  Sooner or later, I go to a football game, go fishing, or just happen to be outside all day at work (most every day now) and someone starts complaining of the cold.   I just smile and think back on the “good ole days.”.


Tom Sparkman  December, 2000