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True Winter Tales: Today's pick

Bay Area Freezers by Mark Paterson

On a cold, grey November day in 1982, a week after my eleventh birthday, I stood at the top of our walk and watched my family's stretch-wrapped belongings get loaded into a big Bekins moving truck. We were leaving Montreal for northern California. I was sad and nervous. I was also, apparently, very fortunate. Maybe it was the time of year, the weather growing ever colder, full-blown winter a mere meteorological dip away, because, as we said our goodbyes, everyone spoke jealously of how I'd be soon sitting on a beach while they'd be soon shovelling driveways.

Even one of the movers, pausing for a smoke, exhibited envy. "You're pretty lucky, kid." His cigarette bobbed between his lips, smoggy billows escaping his mouth and nostrils. I rounded my lips, drew a big gulp of icy air, and exhaled a long column of steam, pretending I was smoking, too. "No more winters for you," he went on. "I wish I was moving to California."

There was a lot to miss about my hometown: the Expos and the Canadiens, Sip-Sacs from Perrette, and all of my friends at school to name only a few examples. In the absence of familiar things, I seized upon the absence of winter for comfort. I reminded myself - convinced myself - of my good fortune. 

I never stopped missing Montreal completely, but, as time went by, I was diverted from the things I missed by newer things. I discovered skimboarding and water polo, punk rock and Vonnegut. By my sophomore year in high school, I was settled enough into my new life that I had ceased to think of it as something new. A trip to the grocery store changed that.

My mother dispatched me to the frozen section for orange juice. Not seeing our usual brand, I stuck my head inside the freezer to reach into the back. As I dug around amid the cans, I was confronted by a frosty and familiar feeling in my nose and lungs. It was that bracing sensation of breathing sub-zero air. And, to my delight, I could see my own breath inside the freezer! In an instant I was transported across the continent, back to street hockey outside my house on a cold winter's afternoon, back to Decembers past on the Sainte-Catherine Street sidewalk facing Ogilvy's Christmas window, and back to the top of the walk at our old house, where I'd blown steam from my mouth, "smoking" with a jaded mover. I realized I missed winter and I missed it dearly. Winter was as much a part of Montreal, of home, as any person, any place, or any thing I'd left behind. From then on, I enjoyed many - admittedly bizarre - moments of solace with my head stuck inside Bay Area freezers.

Eventually, happily, we moved back to Montreal. I won't be leaving it again. I've got winter back, and I enjoy every minute of it. Even though it smells like the inside of a freezer.

Mark Paterson is from Lorraine, QC

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