Remembering the winter of ‘69

I bought myself a new winter coat on the weekend.

It is a very snazzy, shiny, black, puffy coat that promises to defy even the coldest days Alberta has on its agenda for the rest of the winter.

It’s that kind of coat!

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your perception, I haven’t had much use for that brand new, puffy coat that practically shouts, “wear me, I’m warm.”

The weather here in Alberta has not even been a tiny bit January-like.

It’s been almost shirt-sleeve weather, for goodness sakes.

I ran into a store the other day, all dressed up in my new, fancy coat, quite pleased with myself except for one thing.

I was really hot.

The crazy, warm weather we’ve been experiencing these last few days does seem weird.

Sunday night, my husband and I were driving home from our grandson’s 15th birthday party, heading west down that black ribbon of highway that should be totally smooth, but isn’t.

The bumps on that stretch of highway are quite horrible, but they do shake you awake, if you happened to have been lulled into a false sense of complacency.

It was a balmy night, not at all like a January night should be, where you can see your breath and you need a windshield scraper, or at the very least, a credit card, to clean your windshield before you start out.

“Remember about a hundred years ago when we lived in Edmonton?” my husband asked me. “We weren’t even married yet.”

I willed my mind to stretch back that far, but I couldn’t.

“We weren’t married,” I repeated, somewhat incredulously, trying to wrap my head around the fact there was a me before marriage.

“Nope, he said cheerfully. “I was going to NAIT and you were working.”

“Ahh, now I remember,” I reply, wishing I had washed my headlights before we headed out on the highway. It seems all the headlights coming towards me had merged into a giant, moving light that want to gobble up my car. When my own car’s headlights are clean, headlights belonging to other cars seem to almost stay where they belong.

I moved the car over slightly towards the ditch, a needless move for sure, as we were driving on the four-lane and the headlights coming towards me were safely across the meridian.

“Yup, it was really cold that year,” he said.

He continued his story, obviously quite enjoying recounting the facts.

“It was the winter of ’69. January of that year. And it was cold, really cold. They even issued certificates for people saying they had survived the winter of ’69 in Edmonton.

Do you remember now?”

Weirdly enough, I did remember.

I remembered the cold; the penetrating, bone-chilling cold. I remember standing in that penetrating, bone-chilling cold to catch a city bus to take me to my job on 112 Street.

If I recalled the year correctly, the city itself seemed almost frozen in time, with the buses moving in slow motion and white puffs of steam rising above the skyline into a faultless blue sky.

Yes, it was cold, really cold, and then it wasn’t.

It was spring.

Not totally trusting my memory, I decided to look back on the facts surrounding the winter of ’69 in Edmonton.

It truly was a historic deep freeze, starting Jan. 7 and lasting all the way to Feb. 1.

At the end, 26 straight days where the daytime high temperature did not break -21C were recorded.

I think back to the winter when it was so cold they are still talking about it so many years later, and I wonder if I even owned such a nice, warm coat as I have today.

I probably didn’t, but I was ridiculously young and it didn’t matter.

It’s weird how things change.

Now, I am no longer young. Alberta is probably setting records, not for a cold snap, but for a heat wave.

And I own this really nice, warm coat.

Go figure!

Treena Mielke is the editor of the Rimbey Review. She lives in Sylvan Lake with her family.

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