Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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S. Amjad Hussain


Passing time in a cold snap

Weather brings memories that warm the heart




Random thoughts on a cold and snowy afternoon:

The recent spell of subzero temperatures and recurrent snowfall forced many of us to stay indoors. Even being surrounded by comforting and soothing mementos is not an answer to the boredom that comes with forced confinement.

Not to be able to venture out at will or on a whim is hard to accept. Soon, so-called cabin fever takes over.

I tried watching television, but lost interest. Between sports shows and infomercials, there is not much else interesting to watch. Infomercials sell everything from jewelry to magic potions that we’re told will make us look youthful and beautiful. I don’t think these commercials are meant for people like me.

The rest of the TV landscape was no different — reruns of I Love Lucy, Rawhide, and Leave It To Beaver, or the rehash of old news presented as breaking news. The only redeeming shows were cartoons. But how many times can you watch SpongeBob SquarePants or Looney Tunes? I looked for The Flintstones, but they apparently have migrated back to the Stone Age.

I did find an interesting silent movie, Das Weib Des Pharao, from 1922. It portrays ancient Egypt and conflicts between warring countries.

One remark, displayed on the screen, amused me: “Hand us your queen,” it announced, “and we will spare your lives.”

It seems nothing much has changed in warfare since the days of the pharaohs. Now, the conquerors don’t ask for the queen, but for natural resources and the head of the vanquished ruler.

On the second day of my confinement, I decided to take a short walk to the end of my street and back, a distance of one mile. Despite subzero temperatures and windchill adding to the bite, it was a pleasant and refreshing walk.

After all, I reasoned, people in Siberia and elsewhere live under such conditions most of their lives, and they manage. Mine was a cakewalk compared to what others endure.

My son Qarie Marshall, the local host of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition on WGTE, was anxiously waiting for me when I returned. “Don’t you realize, Dad, how cold it is?” he asked. “What if you had fallen and couldn’t walk?”

His admonition amused me. On the stage we call life, we are assigned specific roles and scripts. And the lines he delivered were part of my script when he was a child. I was, however, touched by his concern and amused by the change of roles.

In winter, especially the kind we have had, my mind takes me back to my childhood in Peshawar, Pakistan. It does not snow, and the cold is nowhere close to the kind we have in northwest Ohio.

Occasionally, though, a cold wave from Siberia grips the area. With no central heating, houses get cold and beds colder still.

We relied on glowing charcoal pots to heat rooms. Today, electricity and natural gas have replaced charcoal, but because of erratic power supplies, even mild winters are troublesome.

In severe winters during my childhood, we relied on an ancient method to bring collective warmth to the family. A low table called a sandali was placed in the middle of a carpeted room. A pot of nearly spent charcoals was placed under the table. Over it, a large quilt was spread.

Family members sat around the low table with their feet under the quilt. We ate our evening meals and whiled away the long evening hours talking, knitting, or reading.

Leaving the warmth of the sandali was always difficult, especially when we had to crawl into ice-cold beds.

A cold spell provided other delights. We would make ice by placing water-filled shallow earthenware on the highest point of the terrace.

In the morning, we would jump out of our warm beds, run up to the terrace, and retrieve the frozen pots. The ice would be crushed in tiny pieces, mixed with milk and sugar, and served as a crunchy delight.

Peshawar is a remote outpost in most people’s minds. For me a small trigger — a cold spell in this case — is enough to transport me from one delightful place to another.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

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