Icy fingers and how cold water felt hot

When my mom was a little girl, she would play outside in the winter until her cheeks were numb and her fingers ached inside her gloves. She would come back into the house, weeping from the pins and needles that ran through her fingers. Elizabeth, the maid/babysitter who worked for my mom’s family for many years, until the night she experienced a mental break and served dinner upside down, would wipe her face, and warm up her icy fingers in a bowl of cold water.

As a child I would always beg my parents to tell me stories about when they were little. Growing up in Los Angeles, my favorite stories were the ones that involved cold weather and snowpeople and sleds and marshmallows roasted on sticks over a fire burning in a fireplace. I wanted a fireplace so much when I was six years old, that I would pretend that the lowest shelf of the living room bookcase was one, and I would stare at it while popping bubble wrap, trying to will a hearth into being.

Evil looking ice

Last night, while driving home from class, I noticed a world of ice on the planters and sidewalk in front of the building that used to house the AAA headquarters at 21st and Market. I didn’t have my camera with me then, but the images of that ice niggled at my brain and at about 11 pm last night, I decided I had to walk over there and take some pictures. I bundled myself up in my long, gray down coat that makes it look like I’m wearing a sleeping bag, wrapped a huge scarf around my neck, pulled on a wool hat for extra insulation under my hood and grabbed my gloves as I headed out the door.

I was outside for all of fifteen minutes, but as I walked home, I realized that my gloves had been ridiculously insufficient (the rest of me stayed quite warm). My fingers ached and I ran the last block back to my apartment, trying to warm my fingers while holding a tripod. When I got upstairs, my mind raced back to the stories my mom used to tell me of how Elizabeth would warm up her icy fingers, and I turned the kitchen faucet on cold. Under the water, my fingers started to lose their redness and while it hurt, it was a relief to know that my fingers were still all mine.

To see all the pictures of the ice, go here.

0 thoughts on “Icy fingers and how cold water felt hot

  1. Marisa

    One night she came out to serve my mom’s family dinner, only instead of placing the bowls and platters on the table, she turned them upside down onto the table cloth. On the dining room table that is now in my apartment. She did it while cursing my grandparents, and screaming about how they talked behind her back.

    Even before that, Elizabeth was never entirely stable. She was always whispering to my mom that she was adopted and that one day “her French mama was going to come back for her.” But that was the day where she left hold of reality once and for all.

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  3. howard

    (I was going to tell you I based my daily haiku on your post, but that silly trackback beat me to it.)

    That the cold water trick was something that always amazed me.

    As children, our first impulse was to turn on the hot water, but my mother would always warn us that we could get burnt before we even realized it if our hands were still numb. It amazed me at first because I didn’t understand the logic behind how it felt so warm.

    To this day, I remember that sense of mystery every time I run my hands under the cold water after coming in from the cold.


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