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Cut from ‘frosty cloth’ of Chicago

Updated: February 10, 2014 11:49AM



This is the Windy City. In the wintertime, the howling wind licks that icy lake, and on some especially frigid days whips across the city like an invisible twister, frosting everything in its path, turning mustaches and eyebrows into white ice.

There is no escaping the cold here, where men in my old West Side neighborhood known as K-Town on the most brutal nights of winter disconnected their car batteries and carried them indoors for protection. Somebody a long time ago nicknamed Chicago’s glacial winter wind the “Hawk.” That’s what we called it anyway.

When it was really cold outside and the wind was frozen and jagged, we used to say, “The Hawk is biiitin’!” Except you would say this only while warming your nearly frostbitten hands over a space heater, or else while walking and bundled up so that nothing was exposed except the whites of your eyes.

Where nearly everything short of gunshots failed to get folks in my neighborhood off the street, nothing worked like pure, unadulterated wind-whipped cold.

I learned early on that Chicago can be a cold city and that some places always got a little colder than others did. I suspect that none could be colder than K-Town.

And yet, even on this city’s coldest days — which lately have been menacing and merciless — memories of growing up here warm my heart, even if the freezing cold has tried my Chi-city soul.

The cold also reminds me what it means to be a Chicagoan. To have been born and bred in Midwestern soil. To be cut from the frosty cloth that drapes this place in her most unforgiving winters.

Resilient. Stubborn. Perseverant. Bold. We are.

And so we stand, even when this city turns critically cold.

Resilient, we stood, in recent days, as we watched snow-capped hills rise on our lawns beneath them, or else at the edges of streets newly plowed. The flashing lights of salt trucks, beeping along roadways, their giant steel plows scratching pavement, sparks spitting into an icy night.

As cars twisted and spun over slippery streets, pouring exhaust that trailed like ghosts.

Stubborn, we stood, in woolen scarves and parkas — dressed like Eskimos. Moving laboriously against the numbing, cutting, slapping wind and all the elements.

Even as a frigid death angel hovered somewhere in the atmosphere above this frozen metropolis that glistened white, still and beautiful — at times eerily, oddly silent.

Perseverant, we stood. As trains halted. And water pipes burst.

As the announcement of school closings revolved over the airwaves. As flights frosted over. As the buzz of snow blowers and the dull scraping of shovels blended inharmoniously with the wailing wind.

And we spit out phlegm. Gritted our teeth. Cursed the cold out loud! Vowed to leave this place. Wondered aloud why it is we stay.

But boldly, we stood, even as the lake cemented coldly in a hue of blue, beneath a haunting white mist. And the temperature dove to negative digits that gave frostbite jagged teeth.

Even as the cold relented not. Incarcerated us to heated rooms. Led us to warm our fingers and toes near the embers of fireplaces. Drove us all to shelter, to safe spaces, as beyond our doors and windows an unusual winter’s blast froze this city to a crawl.

And yet, we reemerge, through it all: Resilient. Stubborn. Perseverant. Bold — Chicago.

Even in the cold.

Email: author@johnwfountain.com



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