Mud Angels

by Mike McHugh

131212 Mud Angels One reason that I moved to Louisiana from Yankee Land—aside from the fact that my boss said he’d fire me if I didn’t—is that I looked forward to more tolerable winters. And they are, to a point.

I should emphasize that winters in my hometown aren’t as bone chilling as people down here imagine. Whenever I tell people that I’m from Baltimore, they comment on the winters there as if I came from Alaska. They imagine caribou roaming the streets of downtown while people commute to work on dog sleds.

But it’s really not like that at all. In fact, it’s worse. Temperatures in Baltimore hover around the freezing point for most of the winter. Because of this, daytime precipitation usually comes in the form of rain. So instead of making snow angels, our kids made mud angels.

To make matters worse, the overnight temperatures would drop, and I’d waken to find that a glacier had overtaken my driveway.  I had to wrap chains around my boots to fetch the morning paper. Combined with the pickaxe I carried to chip out my car, I looked like a prisoner sentenced to hard labor.

Road crews would deal with the ice by spreading salt. Lots of salt. Each fall, the city would stockpile it in enormous quantities, creating a mountain so huge that it temporarily becomes the highest point in the state.

The problem with so much salt is that it’s not kind to cars. It creates a briny slush that consumes vehicles as if they’re made of Alka Seltzer. So, once you do manage to hack your car out of the driveway, you usually get to your destination with nothing left of it save the upholstery.

We do get snow up there occasionally. As per the Weather Service, we’d average about 20 inches a year. Generally, it all comes in one major storm. These storms are a boon for the toilet paper companies, though maybe not so much as the ice is for car dealerships. The slightest hint of a coming winter storm causes everyone to instinctively flock to the stores and take every last roll of paper, leaving not a square to be had in the whole city.

It used to baffle me why people felt such need to hoard toilet paper, of all things. I thought it more practical to stock up on essential food items, such as tortilla chips and bean dip, but I found myself alone in those grocery aisles. Later on at home, however, we’d get to the height of the storm, and I’d come to the cold, hard realization that everyone else may have had the right idea after all.

Winters are different here in Louisiana. It rarely freezes, but it still rains a lot. There’s so much rain that, all season long, my yard takes on the consistency of gumbo. The morass sucks in anything that I’m careless enough to leave out on the lawn, including my first lawn tractor.

Still, I would not trade the winter weather here for what I experienced up north. Even on the few occasions where there is a hard freeze, It’s rarely accompanied by precipitation.

And that’s just fine with me. Curing Tabasco peppers is a much better use for salt than thawing out roads.

Fleur White Small

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