Still breathing but barely

If I make it through this winter

When I first had the idea to write a column celebrating Winnipeg, I knew a certain challenge would strike come wintertime. The time of year when it’s least possible to be a cheerleader for the Heart of the Continent.

This winter has been particularly tough. Engulfed in a polar vortex, we Winnipeggers got our collective knickers in a twist with the news that our fair city was colder than Mars.

I can’t defend the cold, though I can make a pathetic attempt to put a positive spin on it. Winter in Winnipeg is a time to embrace clichés. We make the best of a bad situation and thrive as best we can. Though it can be tough.

As a bus rider, I too often scoffed and shook my frozen head as I waited for a bus for 30 minutes or longer this winter. My extremities slowly lost feeling as the minutes would tick by with no bus in sight. I’d play the joyless bus-waiting game of “Is that a bus off in the distance, or just a semi/UPS/Canada Post truck, or a building that hasn’t actually moved because oh geez I’m hallucinating.”

When the bus would finally peel into view it’s inevitably followed by no less than two other buses, and my freezing brethren and I would breathe a collective, icy sigh of relief as we piled on, our scowls slowly defrosting.

Yet instead of cry foul and curse the driver for being late, we smile. We thank him or her. We’re in this together.

The bus is like a scorned lover. It’s done you wrong too many times, left you out in the dark and the cold. Yet when it finally rolls into view you welcome it back with open arms – its warm embrace so familiar. “I forgive you, baby,” you say. “Transfer, please.”

Winnipeg in winter is when I’ve had some of my wildest times. Finding heat in packed bars or parties, rubbing elbows with strangers and regaining life through the power of live music. You find relief in fun and camaraderie and know it was worth it to leave your cosy house for one night of mischief.

This year I’ve done all the wintery Winnipeg things I could muster. I curled for the first-time. I cross-country skied. I stayed in and went mad.

Creative types have been lauding Winnipeg winters for years, as the harsh cold fuels creativity and forces them to stay inside and create masterpieces. I, for one, wrote and produced a one-man play starring a promising young Winnipeg upstart (my cat). It played for one night only (in my apartment) and earned rave reviews.

(I went mad.)

The Paperbacks, another Winnipeg band who played a seminal role in my youth, say, “If I make it through this winter, I think I’ll be okay.” We’ll all be okay, Winnipeg. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again, and we get a little stronger with every winter. These awful times end, time and again, and while they leave their scars we come through them. We survive. We’re okay.

Laina Hughes is a writer from Winnipeg. Pick up a copy of her book Wolseley Stories at McNally Robinson.

Published in Volume 68, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 22, 2014)

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