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Cold weather? I'm accustomed to it - Valerie Baldowski

Now that Halloween is over and the weather is getting seriously cooler, with the hint of winter just around the corner, I am reminded of the comparison between how Southerners handle cold weather, and how Yankees handle it.

Southerners have no idea how to handle winter, and even less of an idea how to drive in snow. Not that it ever snows down here more than a light dusting. Anything more than an inch, and people panic. Drivers hit the gas and have no clue how to handle an icy patch on the road. I used to live in Rhode Island, and having survived the weather up there, I laugh at the cold weather down here.

I went to college in Providence, and I remember my very first winter up there. I was accustomed to the mild winters in Georgia. During my first semester, I nearly froze. I had no idea how to dress, and did not even own any warm sweaters. After sharing a good chuckle, my friends kindly showed me how to dress in layers, wear a hat, and some gloves or mittens. I came to own my very first pair of long johns while in Rhode Island.

During my freshman year, I drove an old, hand-me-down, 1965 Plymouth Fury III, which was also accustomed to warmer weather. I mean, this car had been parked in a heated garage every night, and had no snow tires. Then, when it realized it was going to stay parked outside in the dormitory parking lot all night, every night, in New England, well, no telling what went through its poor little automobile mind.

Let's just put it this way -- the car had more than 100,000 miles on it, and when the seasonal snow came and the parking lots had to be plowed out regularly, I developed a relationship with the AAA tow truck driver. After so many trips to start my car, it got to the point where he would say, "See you next time."

My dorm room was a bit too cold in the winter. I felt chilly in there sometimes, and thought the heater did not work correctly. When I began finding a coating of ice inside my window from time to time, I was sure of it. I came to own my very first electric blanket while living in the dorm that first winter.

I am convinced there was divine guidance at work to help me through the rough patches. I remember one snowy night when I drove to a nearby gas station, and when I got back into the car after pumping and paying, the car wouldn't start. The snow was swirling around my car, and after a few minutes, it started to pile up and cover my vehicle.

Before I had a chance to call my buddies at the AAA, here comes my uncle, pulling up to the pump next to mine in his pickup truck. Needless to say, I was overjoyed to see him. He helped start my car, and I got to sit in his warm truck and thaw out while waiting for my teeth to stop chattering. He told me later he never usually went to that gas station, but for some unknown reason he decided to stop there to gas up that night.

Another time I was stranded -- sick with the flu -- in my dormitory when classes had been canceled after a particularly bad blizzard. The snowdrifts were five and six feet high, and the fridge was empty. My aunt found out about my plight, hopped into her truck, and brought me a care package with milk, eggs, bread, orange juice, and the basics. The kicker was that she had pneumonia, but drove over anyway to help.

So after weather-related experiences like that, the first time I came back to Georgia for a visit -- on Christmas break -- the folks back home were hollering about how cold it was. Well, to me it felt like a cool day, but not even cold enough to button my jacket.

The other interesting part about that "first winter" experience is that I lost my Southern drawl and came back, as my mother said, talking like a Yankee.

Valerie Baldowski covers government and politics for the Henry Daily Herald. She can be reached via e-mail at vbaldowski@henryherald.com.