This Side of the Pond
Notes from an Uprooted Englishwoman
December 29, 2022
I don’t suppose you noticed that it was a bit chilly over Christmas? I know I did because, in all my days, I have never experienced temperatures like it.
But when I told my mother that it was 50 degrees warmer in my fridge than it was outside the door, she scoffed. When I complained that I’d had to put socks on inside the house, she wasn’t impressed, even though she knows full well that socks are my lifelong nemesis and I have the same relationship with keeping them on my feet as your average toddler.
My father meanwhile responded to an image of the predicted temperatures with a simple, “Happy memories!”
This was a far cry from the first time they experienced a Wyoming winter – positively flippant, considering what happened last time.
The first Christmas my parents spent in Wyoming, you see, was one of the coldest we’d had here in a while. When I looked at the forecast, it foretold a frigid -19 degrees at the airport in Rapid City on the day they were planning to arrive.
This would be cold enough to chill anyone’s bones, but I was particularly worried about my parents – for two reasons.
The first was that I knew they would have absolutely no context through which to understand how cold -19 was going to be. They might have thought they knew what winter felt like, but all of us who have for some reason chosen to live our lives tucked under a snowman’s armpit know that they absolutely did not.
In the south of England, winter is a modest affair. Temperatures around zero do happen, but they are outside the norm.
Winter for a Brit is more about driving rain and overcast skies. We’re lucky to see any snow, especially at Christmas, so a quarter inch of the white stuff makes every child dizzier and more animated than they would be after eating a pint jug full of sugar.
A couple feet of snow and a wind chill that blackens fingers in the space of a few minutes was not part of my parents’ life experience. They had nothing to compare it to, and so they simply had no context through which to feel concerned.
The second reason was my family’s tendency to run hot. I, myself, can be used as a human space heater in a pinch, while my mother will only wear sandals even in the depths of winter and I can’t remember ever seeing my brother wear anything but shorts.
Put these things together and you have a potential disaster. My poor dad is the only one of us who feels the cold, while there was a 50/50 chance my mum wouldn’t even bother to bring a coat.
For weeks, I tried to drum it through their heads that they needed to respect the conditions they were going to be walking into. I did all I could to offset the crisis, including bringing spare winter shoes and coats with me to the airport; meanwhile, I repeated my warnings three or four times a day, hoping it might sink in.
And it did – at least partially. They arrived wearing coats and proper shoes, but it was still attire born for a British sort of winter.
We bundled them into extra clothing (my favorite part being the vision of my proper English gentleman of a father wearing a bright blue-and-orange Broncos jacket) and braced ourselves. It was to no avail.
As they walked through the doors into the open air, both of my parents broke into a string of the kind of expletives you’d expect from a hardened sailor. The deer were blushing all the way from South Dakota to Sundance.
The initial shock wore off relatively quickly, but that didn’t make them any warmer. We rushed them back to the cabin where they’d be staying, where the stove had been blazing since before we’d left for the airport.
My father walked through the door and straight into the bedroom, where he climbed under the covers still wearing both coats and refused to reemerge until morning.
He wore that coat for the entire month of his visit – I think he was quite upset when he had to give it back. As time went on, they got braver and braver…or at least, they thought they did.
My mum and dad had no idea how bad the conditions were just before Christmas that year, as we drove back from a craft fair in Belle Fourche along the old highway, snow battering the windshield as an ice sheet formed before our very eyes. They chattered merrily in the back seats, unaware of the peril, as my poor husband white-knuckled it all the way home.
They were similarly innocent of the potential impacts of their request to be driven back to the cabin after dark on Christmas Day, in the middle of a blizzard. This time, it was my dad-in-law’s turn to put on a brave face, and he did such a good job that it took five years for my parents to work out what they did wrong.
Much as I miss them around Christmas-time, I’m glad my poor mum and dad weren’t here to suffer the cold of last week. They might think they’re old hands at a Wyoming winter, but there’s only so many overcoats you can put on one person.