Chicago’s cold invigorates; but Carolinas have a long spring
Friday, Jan. 10, 2014

Chicago’s cold invigorates; but Carolinas have a long spring

Last summer our son, Erik, moved to Chicago, the city of my youth.

I had never found time to introduce him to the Windy City. My family had moved west long before he was born. There was no one to visit and no reason, other than homesickness, to make the trip.

I missed Chicago, though. I even missed its weather.

Chicago in winter, for example, is a gorgeous sight. The earth, covered with fresh snow, sparkles and twinkles. The lights of the city and the shiny skyscrapers are starry against the night sky.

The cold is dry and clear; sharp against the skin. No need for caffeine; just open a window or your front door.

After Erik’s move, we had someone to visit and a reason to make the trip. My husband, Ralf, and I decided to drive to Chicago last December to see our son.

We brought winter boots and down coats, mittens, shawls and hats. On the first day, as we all tramped toward the bus line to go downtown to the Art Institute, I enthused about the clear, sapphire sky overhead and the crunch of dry snow under my feet.

It was difficult to be heard, as I had a scarf wrapped about most of my face, but I am a teacher. I know how to project.

“We’re alive in a world of extremes,” I called out. “This is great!

“You are unanimous in that view,” Ralf said.

But Erik agreed with me.

“Look, about this time in Concord, all we get is gray and rain and rain and gray,” he pointed out. “Bone-chilling.”

“You aren’t cold?” Ralf asked. “It’s around 10 below, Celsius.”

(Ralf is European. Some things never change, no matter how long you live in the States. Apparently, understanding how to think in Fahrenheit is one of them).

“It’s a different kind of cold,” I insisted. “This is invigorating!” I jumped up and down on the crunchy snow. “Just listen to that sound. It’s fun!”

Ralf can hear italics. He typically responds with plain font:

“If you’re content to be a Yeti for a week.”

A few days later, we drove back to the Carolinas.

It has been mostly cold and wet since we returned. The sky has been more than 50 shades of gray. There is no sparkle; there is only damp. Bone-chilling, awful damp.

“I’m cold,” I complained one day.

Ralf raised one eyebrow, which is his equivalent of speaking in italics.

“It’s so depressing,” I added. “The rain is depressing. The gray is depressing. Wet. Dreary. Yuck. I’d rather be in Chicago.”

“It’s 10 degrees below, Fahrenheit, in Chicago just now. That’s 23 degrees below, Celsius,” Ralf said.

“When did you start figuring out Fahrenheit?” I asked.

“Honey,” Ralf said, “think of spring. You are in North Carolina. In very short order there will be crocus blooming in our front yard. Little yellow and purple flowers.”

“Against the gray,” I said.

I paused. In Chicago, spring refuses to arrive for certain until around my birthday, in early May. Then it lasts for about three weeks before a hot and steamy summer takes over. A brief, explosive fall ensues, and then it’s back to winter white and icy cold.

“You know, when they poke their little flower noses up from the earth it’s downright inspiring,” I said.

Ralf lifted one eyebrow. Then he smiled.

Barbara Thiede is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Barbara? Email her at

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more