By Kathy Vos
The Free Press
— Maybe it has something to do with asserting independence. When my parents became serious snowbirds and left their central Minnesota home to head South for much of the year in the late ’80s, I was the bird that flew from my warmer habitat in the Pacific Northwest back to Minnesota.
My flight of frozen foolhardiness.
My return to the Midwest from a nearly three-year adventure in Oregon was like a cold, mean slap in the face — and the fingers, and toes and eye sockets.
It was 1987, and although I don’t have scientific proof that this was one of the coldest, nastiest winters, I can tell you my body and my 1978 Datsun B210 (Meryl The Chocolate Pearl) can testify that this was a winter initiation worthy of criminal prosecution.
The Chocolate Pearl and I had moved to Owatonna to take a job at The People’s Press in December. I found a cozy rental that was actually a converted garage — that burnt-orange shag fooled me into thinking warm, plush comfort when it actually meant an eighth inch of rug remnant between my feet and cold concrete floor. The heater was conveniently a big electric wall unit that exuded intense warmth if you stood 6 inches from it while dressing, eating, reading and flossing.
I didn’t think my not-so comfortable home was an issue though, because I was spending most my time at work anyway. And I decided I would walk the eight blocks to the office every day. Even when it nearly killed me.
One morning in late December, I had to be in to work extra early so I set off in the pre-sunrise darkness bundled up in a full-length down coat that made me look like a walking sleeping bag. Despite boots, a neckwarmer, hat and down mittens, I was so cold when I finally arrived that I went into the restroom for 15 minutes where my body parts slowly thawed. My eyeballs were so cold they melted like I’d just watched the ending of “The Champ.”
I recovered eventually. Not the case for The Chocolate Pearl. Cars from the Pacific Northwest don’t belong in Minnesota. They don’t know what salt on the roads is, they don’t know what a block heater is, they don’t know what a garage is. (“What the heck is that?” I remember asking my Oregon friend when I saw my first carport — the same thing I asked when I first ate fried tofu.)
I should have seen the demise of the Datsun coming. One crisp morning I got in the car and noticed a volcanic like fissure in the dash. As the winter went on, so did the width of the crack. Another frigid morning, I looked down to shift and as the car groaned into second gear, the vinyl covering around the stick shift cracked, as though that once supple material so similar to rich Corinthian leather had turned to stone.
But New Year’s Eve was the clincher. I finished work and intended to drive to Mankato for a wild evening of pizza, Uno and cheap beer with my friends. When I got in the car, The Pearl wasn’t talking. Not even a groan. The tow-truck driver tried jumping it (again — as in so many times that AAA of Oregon sent me a Dear John letter to drop me after that winter). No go. I sadly waved to The Pearl on his tow-truck perch as he left me on the side of the street stranded the rest of the night, which I spent forlornly by myself in front of my garage-house heater. Happy New Year.
It took a day for the car’s throttle to thaw in the warmth of the shop’s garage, but our relationship after that was always chilly. I decided Minnesota was home, and The Pearl responded by rusting so badly he became my Fred Flintstone car — I could have poked my feet through the floor to bring the Datsun to a stop.
So The Pearl died an ugly Midwestern death, his body a shell of what it once was. But I’m still here, a hearty Minnesotan — although I probably should join my snowbird Dad in sunny Arizona for a week, or a month, or maybe three.
Kathy Vos is daytime news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 344-6357 (unless she’s in Arizona ...).