The Real Minnesotan
December 23, 2008

On a particularly cold and stupid-early morning in Minneapolis, Southwest High School's favorite AP Bio teacher, Mr. Angellar, looked around his 1st hour class and said, "These are the real Minnesotans." He meant, of course, that the "real Minnesotans" showed up for school even though it was -35. I was a goody-two-shoes, so it never occurred to me to skip school just because it was a tad chilly, but I've carried the idea of being a "real Minnesotan" with me my entire life.

Minnesotans are tough. Minnesotans brave the cold, snow, and ice, and Minnesotans complain about the cold, snow, and ice only because we survive to complain about the cold, snow, and ice. But can I really say I don't miss scraping off a small window of visibility on the iced windshield with the car running?

Well, in a way, yeah.

I mean, it's not like I yearn to be out there shin-deep in snow with hands made clumsy by snow-crusted mittens as I puff gasps of warmish air in a low-tech attempt to de-ice my car's keyhole, but if I had to do it again, I could. I'm hardwired to handle such issues with a fair amount of grace and swearing, and that's mostly because I'm still a "real Minnesotan" and aim to always be one, even if only in my heart.

Sure, driving to school in a car that a. never heated up until we reached the parking lot; and b. fishtailed every time I took a corner was a pain in the ass. But I did it. I could and can do it! I walked to school uphill both ways naked and in bare feet and I lived to brag about it!

The cold snap that hit the Bay Area has given San Franciscans something to talk about other than the pathetic passing of Prop 8. It has me thinking about snow again. How much I love it, miss it, and hope one day to live in it again.

My sister and I had two plastic sleds. One was red and the other was yellow with red handles. I don't remember getting the red one, but I do remember that when the yellow one arrived one Christmas, it immediately relegated the red one -- which was cracked, dented, and generally pretty beat up -- to ghetto status.

The yellow one had aerodynamic -- is that the word even when it's face-down in the snow? -- ridges on the bottom and two indentations in the front for Moonboot heels.

My parents hung their legs over the side of the sled and used their feet as brakes. It was a safe and decent idea of theirs, except that when careened down the hills? All the snow from their "brakes" ended up spraying in our faces. Yeah, that was back before I could handle solo sledding and had to have Mom or Dad as a ride-along.

Initially, I was downright chicken when it came to sledding. I didn't like how steep and slick and grey the hills looked. My parents would have to plead, beg, cajole, and remind me how much "fun" I had the prior year before I'd step one boot on the sled. Of course, as soon as I took that first ride of the year, I was so thrilled by the speed, the sweep, and the shooting finish that I kept ordering my parents "Again!" after every trudge back up.

My sister and I used to have bitter, bitter arguments over who got that awesome yellow sled for the day. Actually, in most cases there was no argument at all -- I simply relinquished my claim on the yellow sled when my sister threatened to bite me.

Then a funny thing happened. As the years passed, suddenly the cracked, battered, red-sledded, stepchild became the coveted one. Something about the dents and holes made it fly down the slopes with some serious speed. (And when I say "slopes," I mean "hills." And when I say "fly," I do mean "fly.")

As we got older, we got more daring and built bumps and jumps on our paths. We caught some sweet air on those. We'd go down face-front, lying down, backwards, belly-up, eyes closed, and standing in what we Minnesotans thought was a surfer's crouch.

There was that hushed moment after the sled planed out from the slope and started skidding to a slow stop. I'd drag one mittened hand along the side the sled and urge the skid into a spin. Quite often, the bottom of the slope was a healthy mix of ice and snow, so the spinning was fast, furious, and sometimes made me throw up.

Nausea aside, it was quite peaceful lying there on the sled, looking up at Minnesota's winter sky, and rolling out to make snow angels.

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