The dread of winter

When is it officially the dead of winter?

Maybe it’s when writers start writing columns about the official start of the dead of winter

No one seems to know exactly when the dead of winter is, but you can get a fair estimate by multiplying the number of icicles hanging from your nose by the number of sharp, deep breaths you take when your spouse tries to warm their icy feet on your back—a maneuver also known as the Wisconsin alarm clock.

Another sure sign of the dead of winter is when middle-aged fathers venture out to teach their teenagers how to drive in the snow. You will often see them in an empty grocery store parking doing backward donuts. Be sure to listen for the high-pitched screams of, “The brake is on the left! The left!”

Some would differ on when the dead of winter actually occurs since, according to the groundhog, we have only four more weeks of the white stuff to look forward to.

Of course, anyone familiar with the frozen tundra of Northern Michigan knows the hog lies.

Which is why I’m thinking we need our own cold weather mascot.

Perhaps it could be Carl, a manic-depressive chipmunk who suffers bouts of both unbelievable glee when he sees you trying to dig your car out of a snow bank, and downright disgust if he happens to catch you and the family making a snowman.

Since shivering doesn’t count as conversation, Carl knows the only thing you can really determine on Feb. 2 is how long your marriage will last if one of you doesn’t get out of the house for longer than it takes to check the mail.

Tensions only increase when you open the mailbox to find a picture postcard from the Caribbean with the greeting: “If you shovel my roof, I’ll bring you back a coconut. Love, Uncle Bob.”

Shoveling one’s roof, another sure sign of the dead of winter. Sure, I say that up here and nobody flinches. Try laying that one on them down south and you might as well say you wax your lawn.

I knew it was the dead of winter last week when we endured the blizzard that never was—only tender types from southern Ohio refer to last Thursday’s flurries as a blizzard—not because of the cold, gray sky or the relatively few inches of snow, but because I was back in the trenches fighting with the snow blower that never was.

The novelty of owning my very first snow throwing machine vanished when I realized it was only a snow blower in the theoretical sense.

Back in autumn of 2006, when the salesman told me I was getting, “all the snow-moving capacity one would expect for $149.99,” he meant it.

What I hadn’t realized at the time was that I would become the punch line to some engineer’s elaborate joke.

When I purchased the unit back in October I also bought 100 feet of extension cord. And, at the time, the difficulty of lugging 45 pounds of bright orange cord through knee-deep snow didn’t enter my penny-pinching brain.

Not until the first heavy snow did I realize the ejector on my four slice toaster packs more of a punch than the motor on this thing.

And, I’m not sure who decided to put the old-time baby carriage wheels on it, but he or she needs to be slapped.

The box boasts this unit to be self-propelled. It was apparent from the get-go that by “Self,” they mean “You” and by “Propelled,” they mean, “Not so much.”

This unit moves with the ease and grace of a steel shopping cart on two bad wheels.

And then there is the “Durable” construction—their word, not mine.

The housing is plastic.

The blade is plastic.

The handle is plastic.

The wheels are plastic.

In fact, the only metal on the entire contraption is the oblong sticker warning me not to get it wet.

Obviously no one bothered to explain to the engineers at the Snow Way in Hell Corporation what snow is made of.

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