I plan to winterize the dog’s shed early this year because I think we’re in for a cold winter. I also cranked up my hot tub because it’s always great to sit in it when the wind is blowing and the mosquitoes have disappeared for the season. It all reminds me of an exceptionally cold winter, some years ago.
I’m not sure of the year but I think it loosely coincided with the first Gulf War. Anne and I were at low ebb financially, but we were somehow managing to eke out a living. We were renting a house in an Oklahoma City neighborhood called Summerfield. The house was small but had a small pool and a hot tub.
Our house backed up to a creek with water and many trees. Because of the creek, we had critters visit us every night – skunks, possums, foxes and armadillos. They became so tame that I could open the sliding glass door and actually feed them out of my hand. My vet had a fit when I told him this.
“They could get rabies. You want them to bite your cats?”
I didn’t but I apparently had a better opinion of my cats’ intelligence than did my vet. They would never back up from a fight but, likewise, they weren’t much for starting one either.
A large unfixed stray tom lived in a drainage pipe near our house. He was wilder than the wildest skunk or fox, and he wouldn’t tolerate a human coming near him. Well, at least at first. Soon he was lying on the couch on the back porch and would even let me pet him – once or twice maybe.
The winter grew so cold that I draped plastic sheeting around the back porch to keep out the wind. Big Cat liked it and would lie out on the porch all day, but at night, he would disappear to chase field mouse, squirrels, or whatever. He didn’t bother my other cats and they seemed to feel safer because of his presence.
Leon and Dan, two trivia friends had dropped by one Friday night. A cold front had moved through the previous day and there was ice on the pool. I had the hot tub cranked so that it wouldn’t freeze, and Dan, Leon and I decided to take a dip.
When I say it was cold, I mean gray cold, a wind blowing so hard that it would freeze the moisture in your eyebrows.
“I’ll jump in the pool if you two will,” Leon said.
“You’re crazy,” I said.
“I’ll do it,” Dan said. “A quick cold dip will be good for us.”
Dan was smart; a PhD candidate in economics from OU, but it didn’t stop me from raising my frozen eyebrows.
“You’re both crazy as hell,” I said. “You won’t last thirty seconds.”
“We’ll be fine,” Leon said. “Our body temps are elevated because of being in the hot tub. I can’t believe you’re such a pussy about this.”
By this time, it had begun to sleet, the wind whipping like a proverbial banshee, the wooden deck around the spa rapidly growing slick.
“Who is the pussy?” I said, pulling myself out of the hot tub and racing the short distance across the slippery deck, to the pool.
“Geronimo!” I yelled as I hit the icy water.
Dan and Leon followed me into the pool. Dan was correct. Our body temperatures were elevated to the point that contact with the icy pool didn’t cause us to have instant heart attacks. That didn’t mean we could stay in the frigid water for very long. We hurriedly climbed out and immersed our bodies in the hot water of the hot tub.
We repeated the plunge into the pool at least two more times before rushing into the house, toweling off and then sitting in front of a roaring fire for at least half an hour.
I loved the little house but it had a structural defect – its foundation had split in the middle, something we geologists call a down-to-the-basin fault. The prognosis was dire and Anne and I began looking for a new place to live. Like the first Gulf War, winter ended and I somehow managed to sell a prospect, allowing us to move into improved digs.
I couldn’t find Big Cat when it came time to move because I don’t think he wanted me to find him. I did see him one last time. He stood a hundred feet away, looking at me, not coming when I called. He finally turned and walked away - stopping before disappearing into the drainage pipe that he called home. He seemed to dip his big head toward me, as if saying, “We had a good run, but this is where I’m meant to be.”
There’s a warm breeze blowing tonight, a big golden moon in the sky. My dog Lucky just died and I’m missing him, and thinking about that last cold winter and that old big cat. It saddens me, and makes me think that the only real thing we actually have on this old earth is the here and now, and maybe the only place you’ll ever be happy is that drainage pipe in your heart that you call home.