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TABLE D'HOTE: Winter’s bite

Wade McIntyre

“When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.” - Eric Hoffer

Though winter is not my favorite time of the year, it does make life simpler.

Winter brings us a need to stay warm and comfortable, but life goes on the same as any other season.

I don’t feel the need to visit a distant beach or hop behind the wheel and drive to the ends of the earth in winter, as I sometimes do in summer.

I can wait out whatever winter sends my way, but have never given a thought to waiting out summer. There is always one last fun thing to squeeze in before summer ends. We only have so many summers to live, as the Indians say.

I don’t remember the hottest summer I ever spent, but the coldest winter stands out like an icicle razor blade in memory.

I made up my mind never to complain about the heat again after a winter working as a deckhand on the Mississippi River.

Cold out there cuts to the bone and makes your knees knock together. You don’t even want to think about being on a barge when a winter storm breaks it from the tow and whips it away, stranding you and two mates on a sandbar in the Mississippi River north of Memphis.

When it gets too hot, a wise man once said, you can always take your clothes off. But I learned first hand on that wretchedly cold day, one cannot put on more clothes unless  one has more clothes to put on.

Cold that day was being a southern boy whose warmest coat and gloves on his first upriver trip on the Mississippi were better suited to a fall evening in Magaritaville than an icy winter on the water.

We were rescued after 3 1/2 hours, so this is no tale about frozen men facing cannibalism and hugging one another to share body heat.

It’s about one guy, me, who swore on the spot of his last frozen spittle of the day that he would never be caught again in cold weather without warm gear nearby.

I also worked summer on the river that year, making up tow on steel barges where the surface temperatures topped 120 degrees. That was a hot, sweaty, happy time, when I spent many off hours discovering the work of writer Eric Hoffer in “The True Believer.”

Anyone who decides on a lark to work on the river ought to sign on in the summer and experience the special treats of that season, ones like the surprisingly existential joy of spitting off a moving barge and watching one’s collected saliva waft 20 yards downwind before it lands featherlike in the Mississippi in the light of a full moon.

Winter can be harsh and is associated with muerte for good reason. Old animals and people often lose their spirit for the game of life and die in winter when the earth is barren and cold winds howl around us like banshees, telling us we no longer belong, if we ever really did.

When my time rolls around, make my last day a nice one in summer. Give me chance to squeeze in one more fun thing before summer ends.

Wade McIntyre is a reporter for The Gonzales Weekly Citizen. He can be reached at reporter1@weeklycitizen.com.