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The Old Hometown

 

The town I grew up in had been scraped only fifty years earlier out of the endless flat Northern prairie. Fairview, Alberta, was part of the frontier, and had the cowboy bars to prove it. The Hudson’s Bay Co. department store on Main Street still bought beaver, wolf and coyote furs directly from the local trappers. Three thousand people lived there, four hundred miles away from the nearest city. Cable TV, video games and internet did not exist. It was no easy matter to stay innocently amused in Fairview, particularly during the five months of winter, when long stretches of forty‑below days and even colder nights were the norm.

The world is a different place when it’s cold like that. The drunks in our town ended their sad lives early. They passed out in snowbanks at three in the morning and froze to death. You don’t go outside casually when it’s forty below. On first breath, the arid desert air constricts your lungs. Ice forms on your eyelashes and they stick together. Long hair, wet from the shower, freezes solid and then stands on end wraith‑like of its own accord later in a warm house, when it thaws bone dry, charged with electricity. Children only put their tongues on steel playground equipment once. Smoke from house chimneys doesn’t rise. Defeated by the cold, it drifts downwards, and collects like fog on snow‑covered rooftops and yards. Cars must be plugged in at night, their engines warmed by block heaters, or oil will not flow through them in the morning, and they won’t start. Sometimes they won’t anyway. Then you turn the engine over pointlessly until the starter clatters and falls silent. Then you remove the frozen battery from the car, loosening bolts with stiffening fingers in the intense cold, and bring it into the house. It sits there, sweating for hours, until it warms enough to hold a decent charge. You are not going to see out of the back window of your car, either. It frosts over in November and stays that way until May. Scraping it off just dampens the upholstery. Then it’s frozen, too. Late one night going to visit a friend I sat for two hours on the edge of the passenger seat in a 1970 Dodge Challenger, jammed up against the stick‑shift, using a vodka‑soaked rag to keep the inside of the front windshield clear in front of the driver because the car heater had quit. Stopping wasn’t an option. There was nowhere to stop.

And it was hell on house cats. Felines in Fairview had short ears and tails because they had lost the tips of both to frostbite. They came to resemble Arctic foxes, which evolved those features to deal proactively with the intense cold. One day our cat got outside and no one noticed. We found him, later, fur frozen fast to the cold hard backdoor cement steps where he sat. We carefully separated cat from concrete, with no lasting damage–except to his pride. Fairview cats were also at great risk in the winter from cars, but not for the reasons you think. It wasn’t automobiles sliding on icy roads and running them over. Only loser cats died that way. It was cars parked immediately after being driven that were dangerous. A frigid cat might think highly of climbing up under such a vehicle and sitting on its still‑warm engine block. But what if the driver decided to use the car again, before the engine cooled down and cat departed? Let’s just say that heat‑seeking house‑pets and rapidly rotating radiator fans do not coexist happily.

Because we were so far north, the bitterly cold winters were also very dark. By December, the sun didn’t rise until 9:30 a.m. We trudged to school in the pitch black. It wasn’t much lighter when we walked home, just before the early sunset. There wasn’t much for young people to do in Fairview, even in the summer. But the winters were worse. Then your friends mattered. More than anything.

 

Дата: 2018-09-13, просмотров: 46.