2017 marks a milestone of sorts for me. Twenty years ago this August, under the blaze of the hot Texas sun, I packed up my little Dodge Neon and along with my brother, drove 987 miles north on I-35 for my two-year stint to what might as well have been the hinterlands: Minnesota. Like a modern-day Laura Ingalls Wilder (except in a car…and Asian), Victor and I trudged our way north armed with a Rand McNally Atlas and enough Dr Pepper and beef jerky to get us through a zombie apocalypse. Know what we didn’t have? Technology. No iPhone! No Google Maps! No TripAdvisor! No OpenTable! And did I mention my Neon was a stick shift? Seriously, Stone Age.
Well, my Neon, Victor, and I navigated our multi-state journey with just a few blunders and somehow found the apartment I had rented, sight unseen, near the University of Minnesota campus. It’s remembering times like these that reinforces just how integral the internet has become to us today. Yes, I had use of the internet back then but only after a slow and laborious dial-up process which featured, ironically, an animated man running on my screen. He really should have been crawling…towards a glacier…while being outpaced by a three-legged turtle. Anyhoo, I rented the apartment based on some grainy photos I saw on an online newspaper with no reviews or recommendations. And rookie mistake: no shots of the interior itself. If there had been such things as reviews back then, I would have at least been forewarned that the halls of my apartment building smelled like kung pao chicken and that this is where shag carpeting went to die.
But I digress. Despite the dire state of my apartment and the fact that I was about to start two years of coursework towards my Master’s in an unfamiliar city among people I didn’t know, the most daunting aspect of this detour to the Northland was what everyone thinks of when they hear “Minnesota.” That’s right: our godforsaken winters.
It’s hard for me to adequately describe how cold it can get here without using a lot of “very’s,” multiple curse words, tears, and some well-placed emojis. That very first winter, as I was crossing the Mississippi River on the pedestrian bridge to get to class wearing my super cute ivory coat with fur trim hood insulated with whatever type of cotton they use for q-tips, I noticed the hair in my nose freezing whenever I breathed in. Then, I noticed my eyelashes freezing together from the moisture of watering eyes. And then(!), I noticed my coat might as well have been a string bikini for all the warmth it provided. By the end of my twenty-minute walk to class, I had pitch black mascara running down the side of my face, a pint of mucous pouring out of my nose, and I’m fairly certain, although never medically diagnosed, a mild case of frostbite. Of the many lessons learned that day: always use waterproof mascara, invest every penny I have in North Face, and get the hell out of Minnesota the minute my Master’s program was over.
Well, nineteen winters later, here I still am. Not only am I still here, I am raising two mini-Minnesotans who embrace our 6 months of winter with love and passion. The first snowfall, to them, is magical. For me, it’s a harbinger of the misery to come: wishing I had a team of sled dogs to pull my grocery laden Target cart across the frozen expanse of the parking lot, bundling up as if embarking on an arctic expedition just to check the mail, and waking up morning after morning to pitch black, only to face a day with a measly 8 hours of sunlight. The girls see none of this. Instead, they beg to go sledding, ice skating, skiing, tubing, and all manner of activities that require head to toe insulation. And although I indulge them once in a while, sometimes, you simply must stay inside. And believe me, Minnesotans have this inside business down to an art. We have a whole amusement park crammed into the middle of the mother of all malls. We have miles of skyways linking downtown buildings so that no human has to come in contact with the outdoors during our arctic blasts. And finally, we have indoor water parks- an anathema to this Texan. Water slides? Indoors? What kind of Twilight Zone am I living in?
And just when you start fantasizing about pitching all of your snow shovels into a massive kerosene-fueled bonfire and wondering how many pesos it would take to start a taco truck in Playa, the world thaws. We reach that critcal 32-degree mark and trade in our layers of polar fleece for flip-flops and shorts. We start to actually see the faces of people around us, rather than watery sad eyes peeking out of a tightly wrapped woolen scarf. Tiny fissures on the surface of our 10,000 Lakes crack wide open, revealing the crystal clear water underneath. Small, colorful buds courageously poke out of the ground and while the first snow of the season might be magical to my kids, the first crocus blooms carry that same magic for me. For not only has this Texan survived another winter, I’ve lived to see another spring. The earth is re-born and not unlike childbirth, I forget the pain of the previous winter and revel in the joy to come. Yes, Winter #20 looms before me, but not before a fantastic Summer #19. Happy Spring everyone!