Saturday Diary / Cold? I grew up in a polar vortex


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I come from a land called The Frozen Tundra. The cold shouldn’t faze me.

One week into my time as a reporting intern at the Post-Gazette, arctic temperatures became big news. As it turns out, I’m well-conditioned to talk about the weather.

Born and raised in Green Bay, Wis., I have endured my share of cold-weather jokes, which go together with cheese and farm jokes as effortlessly as beer and polka music. And they would have stopped being funny a long time ago if they weren’t so darn true.

This week, in a bitter cold snap that struck most of the Midwest, my hometown reached 18 degrees below zero Tuesday night. With the wind-chill, it felt like 45 below.

When my beloved Green Bay Packers fell to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, the tears of Cheesehead Nation froze quickly, along with our Super Bowl hopes and dreams. According to meteorologists at WFRV-TV, the CBS affiliate in Green Bay, by the time the deep freeze passed, the city had endured 63 consecutive hours of temperatures below zero. Wisconsin winters forgive no one.

Google “Wisconsin jokes” and you’ll find a sizable list of “It’s so cold that …” zingers that roll off the tongue as easily as “yo mama.” Then there’s the one about how Wisconsinites nevertheless do experience all four seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction.

This week the desire to poke fun at our frozen football fans was evident by the numerous jibes taken at the expense of Wisconsin and the entire Midwest by late-night comedians and newscasters. Of course, some Packers fans did use their grills to thaw out frozen beers, proving that not even a polar vortex can separate a man from his Miller Lite.

Nor can I pretend that this is an issue confined to “winter.” When I was growing up, Halloween costumes had to have a cold-weather contingency plan and be able to have a jacket stuffed under them. I was 4 years old when I adamantly and unsuccessfully argued that Pocahontas did not wear jeans under her dress. Well, in 1996 she did.

Despite an April birthday, when I turned 11 I woke up to half a foot of snow on our lawn, which stamped the life out of my dad’s tulips. Frozen Tundra, indeed.

It’s enough to make me question what my ancestors were thinking when they hitched the wagons to roll into northern Wisconsin and Minnesota instead of some warmer landscape elsewhere. Nevertheless, Wisconsin is home and I wouldn’t trade it for a sunny childhood in Florida any day.

I’ll leave it to readers to throw in their own pop culture comparisons. We’re Randy, the little brother in “A Christmas Story,” so bundled up he couldn’t put his arms down to his side. We’re the Abominable Snowman and the cast of “Fargo” rolled into one.

Despite all the complaints, there is a quaint, stubborn pride attached to Wisconsinites’ tolerance, even love, of the cold. In a place where football is a religion and beer is a sport, the shirtless men and bikini-clad women in the stands at Lambeau Field every Sunday certainly aren’t there to sunbathe. They are out to prove as much as the 11 men on the field.

Even with my cold-weather bonafides earned by growing up in Green Bay, decades of history behind me — remember a little game called The Ice Bowl? — I am going to cop to being a bad Wisconsinite sometimes. When my thermometer reads a number as despicable as 9 below zero, a record-breaking feat Pittsburgh reached Tuesday, I cringe, too.

So, Pittsburgh, I get it. It is cold and winter is long.

It could be colder.

It could be longer.

Lauren Lindstrom, a winter reporting intern at the Post-Gazette, is a senior studying journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. (llindstrom@post-gazette.com).


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