Chilly days of January are nothing like they used to be.
Rick Bragg Flip Flop Winter
Credit: John Cuneo

It is wintertime. Yesterday, it was a bone-numbing 47 degrees. I think I even saw a mosquito, though he was wearing a jacket and a little bitty pair of pants.

Oh, will spring never come? Down here, we all try to cope with the cold. My brother Sam cuts and stacks wood for the fireplaces, stockpiling for the winter, one in which we will huddle around a single, sad sparkler and a flickering Zippo lighter. We have enough wood to heat Albania. He goes into the wilderness in insulated coveralls and thermal boots; by 11 a.m., he is nicely broiled.

My mother believes, too, this will be a winter that never ends, and has been known to shelter in place, eyes locked on the weather forecasters in Birmingham, warning me of hard freezes that seldom come and snow that rarely falls.

"Call in sick," Mama says if the mercury plummets below 72. I look out on a balmy day. "You don't need to travel in that," she says.

Me, I like winter. I turn the thermostat down to something approximating a good draft, wrap up in an old blanket, and turn on the television to watch the weather. I don't take any joy in human suffering, but there is just something satisfying about reclining down here in the artificial chill, the only ice around tinkling in your glass of tea, as you watch snowplows labor and snow tires spin in the miserable tundra to the far north. I lived a few winters in Boston and New York; there are no words for the horror.

Now, I just sit in my chair and watch ruddy-faced people tug on the cords of their snowblowers, and I sigh. Maybe, I think to myself, if it slips below 80, I shall make a pot of chili.

We used to have winter. I do not mean a hard freeze for three days, or an ice storm, but days of cold. If you are a Southerner living aboveground—as opposed to hunkered in a hole living on cans of Beanee Weenee—you must admit that the weather has changed. Those winters of my childhood are now lost in a haze of growing humidity, swallowed up by the milling throngs of Southerners wearing camouflage Bermuda shorts and Taylor Swift tank tops, moaning through Walmart in a mild sweat, shopping for Velveeta and Ro-Tel tomatoes. There's no celebrating a football national championship without cheese dip.

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Oh, I know they still have winter in the snowy peaks of North Carolina, up near Lake Superior, but in the states below, it seems, not so much anymore.

I remember waiting for the big yellow bus, stamping my feet to stave off frostbite. I remember the hot air of the heater on my toes, and gazing out on a world glinting with frost. I remember how my brothers and I skated across it in our shoes, falling, falling, falling some more. Now, ice is a hated thing. It slicks the interstates a few days a year. It freezes and bursts the pipes on a Tuesday; by Wednesday night, people are in flip-flops. It is not a season but an aberration. Better to shelter in place like Mama, I guess, and remember ponds of silver and hope that, up there in the tundra, they get that darn snowblower cranked.