Living in the State of Confusion

Ruminating on winter from the backyard deck on a warm January day

I cannot believe I am outside, sitting on my deck, wearing shorts, and watching the thermometer edge toward 70 degrees. This wouldn’t be so phenomenal except it is January in St. Louis! And similar scenarios are going on in Chicago, Illinois and Spokane, Washington. It wasn’t even this warm yesterday in Florida! As the saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather in St. Louis today, just wait; because tomorrow it will definitely change!

For a couple of years now, my husband Bud has been wanting desperately to return to his roots – the South. Every day or so I hear about his yearning to be fishing, swimming and sitting outside where it never snows. Now we have indeed had a few bad winters here in our 40 years of marriage. I will admit to that. But one that I especially recall was the winter of 1977. I specifically remember because my husband is from Mobile, Ala., right on the Gulf Coast, where we lived our first year of marriage. Even so, I still called Missouri “home.”

So when Bud was offered a position as a chemist in St. Louis, and I was hired by Lindbergh School District in 1974, we were both excited to move to beautiful South County. Having lived that past year on Alligator Bayou in his parents’ summer house near Dauphin Island, we could watch the shrimp boats (and alligators) in our own backyard.

Naturally, I thought the ice and snow of our first winter back in St. Louis would be culture shock for him. But Bud loved it. Notice I said loved in the past tense. We sledded, slid, shoveled and skated through the first few snowy winters, coming in occasionally for the proverbial hot chocolate by the fireplace. We were in our early twenties and couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t want to play out in the snow.

Then came 1977. From Jan. 15-19 that year, we had five straight days below zero degrees. The snow had become crusted and dirty, schools were closed, cabin fever set in and tempers flared. By spring though, much was forgotten and life was again good. We chaperoned the senior trip to the Bahamas that year and kept up with the 200 Lindbergh “kids” barely younger than we were.

That was 35 years ago. Through the following winters, Bud’s blood has gotten thinner and he spends as little time as possible outdoors in the cold. Even through the years of our 50s, I continue to love the snow and cold, even looking forward to a white Christmas.

However, after this week of springtime in January, more than ever, Bud is dreaming of the Gulf. Daily he talks of retiring to a house on the ocean or a lake where he can step out the back door and fish, just as he did the first year we were married. I told him that it’s all in his mind and that this week’s weather is a reminder that once again spring will be busting out all over St. Louis; so he should just enjoy this mild season while we are still experiencing it!

As we sat out on our deck, I pictorially detailed the beautiful two acres behind our house in South County, where we have a front row view of the deer, owls, wild turkey and redbirds, which I reminded him are even more beautiful when contrasted against sparkling white coated trees. He then drags out a southern fishing catalogue to pictorially detail for me the sand and greenery, with watery blue pictures of large-mouth bass saying, “Move to the Lakes of Florida – just minutes from the ocean.”

We have friends who recently sold everything, packed up and moved south. However, we have other friends excited to retire to the slopes of Colorado. If joy and contentment is really a state of mind, then we should be able to live anywhere and love it. Yet, I remember the 100 humid degrees of Alabama in July, while Bud remembers fishing on the bayou. I think of the sledding parties on Art Hill, bonfires and ice skating under the crystallized branches in Forest Park. Old man Peppers never wants to see snow and ice again. So what do we do? Live in two different locations after 40 years, or live in the state of confusion?

Being the eternal optimist I have learned whatever state I am in to be content. I will probably eventually go along with the move to the South, at least for a few months in the winter. All I can say is that this week when I was skipping and playing in the front yard with our dog, I would have been doing the same had it been in the snow! Bud reminded me this time last year he was sitting inside by the fire looking for property in Florida. And if we hadn’t had this “fluke of a week of springtime weather” he’d probably be doing the same.

So I continue to listen to his rants and raves and in all probability will indeed start heading south with the other geese and snowbirds one of these days. But when both the heat and humidity soar above 90 degrees down south, I might be sitting there with him, but you can bet one thing for sure, I won’t like it. So I will be pulling out the winter sports magazines, and instead of dreaming of a white Christmas, I will remind Bud that during a momentary state of confusion, he promised I too could return to my roots in the beautiful state of Missouri, where we once had summer in January!

Debra Peppers, a professional speaker for 25 years, is one of only five inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame, which followed her retirement from Lindbergh High School. A member of the National Speakers Association, she has traveled to all 50 states and 60 countries teaching others that if she can go from being a 250-pound high school dropout, to Teacher of the Year there is hope for every child and adult. Her web site is www.pepperseed.org.

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