Red Knit Cap

My second grade teacher, Mrs. Lawrence, insisted that students continue wearing winter coats during recess until the first day of spring, no matter how warm the weather got before then. This was in Arkansas, where winter usually ends in February. By early March we were red-faced and sweating out on the playground, but Mrs. Lawrence held firm.

It was a Christian school, so holding firm to arbitrary rules—whether or not they made sense or caused unnecessary discomfort—constituted a crucial component of the pedagogy.

I of course did as I was told, for I always did as I was told. Besides, I worshipped Mrs. Lawrence, rigid beliefs vis-à-vis seasonal outerwear notwithstanding.

For one thing, she cast me as King Nebuchadnezzar in a classroom play and let me camp it up big time as I sent Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to the fiery furnace (I wore my red bathrobe and spoke in a hoity-toity accent). For another, she scolded this big kid named Lloyd when he pinched me on St. Patrick’s Day for not wearing green, even though my shirt was a kind of aqua-ish color and CLOSE ENOUGH.

I don’t know why all my anecdotes about second grade take place in March.

I don’t recall ever zipping up or buttoning a coat until I left Arkansas to go to college in the Chicago area, where I learned that Old Man Winter has a homicidal streak.

In Chicago, allowing a bunch of 8-year-olds to remove their coats, hats, gloves, and scarves on the first day of spring would have earned Mrs. Lawrence a visit from the Department of Children and Family Services for child endangerment. After all, the first day of spring in Chicago typically means there are roughly 6 more weeks of winter still to go.

April is the cruelest month, to quote T.S. Eliot and iconic WGN meteorologist Tom Skilling. That’s when the city usually experiences a few scattered springlike days that get your hopes up prematurely. 

After a long cold spell the weather will suddenly get sunny and warmish (okay, 48 degrees), and you’ll see optimistic el riders in tanks and sundresses. Then the very next day those same big dreamers will be back in their heavy down parkas from the North Face. How could you not get seasonal affective disorder?

Nonetheless, I remained up north after college, spending many years in Chicago before eventually drifting eastward to New York and then to the Boston area, where I currently live. I learned to weather the weather a long time ago, and with climate change the winters get milder every year in any case.

For those of you who are contemplating a move from hotter to colder climes, my advice is simple:

First and foremost, it’s crucial to keep ears and hands warm, so gloves and hats are of course the most important items after your winter coat. I don’t recommend splurging on expensive hats and gloves, though, because they are easy to lose. The types of gloves allegedly designed so that you can use touchscreen devices such as your iPhone while wearing the gloves never work. Don’t even bother.

And I’m sorry, but you’re just going to have to resign yourself to having hat-head hair—with unbecoming flattened areas here, bumps that can’t be flattened there—every single day of every single October through every single March. That’s one of your punishments for abandoning the South. Another is that you’ll never again taste a decent piece of cornbread.   

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