One day in mid-October, when the temperature was maybe in the 60s, I drove home past City Park and saw a little girl walking through the oak trees all bundled up in a coat and a scarf and a hat with earflaps. “Psssh,” I thought. “That’s silly. This isn’t cold.”
A few weeks later, some of my coworkers started coming to work in overcoats. “Psssh,” I thought. “That’s silly. This isn’t cold.”
Just before Christmas, I ran into Dorignac’s to pick up a bottle of wine for a party. I was wearing just a T-shirt, and a sweet old lady with her hair in pink curlers –– yes, really –– said, “Oh, baby, aren’t you cold?” And I said: “Psssh. Don’t be silly. This isn’t cold.”
But OK. OK. This is cold. This is run-your-water cold, as my dad is fond of saying. This is Missouri-caliber cold.
My first winter in Missouri was brutal. I truly didn’t ever believe spring would come, and it just kept getting colder and colder and grayer and grayer. I have one fond memory from that time: After dinner on one of the coldest nights of the year, my now-husband, Jamie, walked me to an AmeriCorps meeting and promised he’d wait until it was over so I wouldn’t have to walk back to my dorm room in the dark alone. While I was in my meeting, though, he walked back to my dorm and built dozens of miniature snowmen along the way and then walked back to meet me, and as we walked back together, he pointed them all out to me to distract me from the fact that it was maybe 6 degrees outside. But beyond that little bit of sweetness and fun, all of my memories from that winter are bleak and lonely.
It got better. Once I saw that spring truly, truly did follow winter, I could endure it. Once I knew from experience that it would honestly be warm and green again, I could muddle my way through the worst of it.
There were always a few times each winter where I thought I wouldn’t be able to hold out until April, days where it was in the single digits and no amount of hot chocolate –– even hot chocolate laced with Kahlùa –– would make it better. But then there would be one day in which I’d get just the slightest hint of spring in the air, and I’d start to feel hopeful.
If the seasons in Missouri were marked by changes in temperature and greenery, seasons in New Orleans are marked by festivals and holidays.
And there were a few times during the Christmas season –– not my favorite, by any means –– where I thought I wouldn’t be able to hold out until Carnival, days when the stores were crowded and the streets were jammed and no amount of Christmas cookies –– even Christmas cookies with a side of spiked cider –– would make it better. But then, just like I used to see crocuses coming up through rapidly thawing ground, I started to see King Cakes in the stores, and even though I’m a traditionalist who won’t eat them until after Twelfth Night, they gave me hope that Christmas would end.
And on Wednesday night, when I came home, Jamie had bought the first King Cake of the season.
It’s been a long time since he built those tiny snowmen to cheer me up during our long, freezing cold walk across campus. But even after more than a decade and halfway across the country, he hasn’t forgotten that little surprises make everything better.