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Anything but a hot time in the old town

Standing at the intersection of Pioneer and Main in Ashland on Friday evening, waiting for the Festival of Light parade to begin, it slowly dawned on me that I was feeling something that was truly in the spirit of the season.

Cold. I was cold. The people around me? ... Cold.

As we waited, by the light of the sliverish moon, there was the sort of growing anticipation known primarily by those who hoped to find themselves some place warm before appendages started snapping to the ground like tree limbs in mid-winter.

We were all in this together — eyes watering, skin tightening, cheeks glowing red. A couple of people walked by, holding a banner that told us that Christmas would be canceled next year because the arctic ice pack was melting — which would destroy Santa’s home.

As I saw them pass, I took note of their message, considered its implications and thought to myself ... I bet they’re cold, too.

The Ashland Middle School band came into view playing holiday tunes — more than a few held their instruments in one hand, with the other jammed in a coat pocket — as if their was some magical source of heat to be found within.

If they looked a tad uncomfortable, it didn’t keep them from sounding pretty good as they headed down to the Plaza — where Santa, who still had a home this year, would ultimately turn on the lights ... signaling that folks could do the cold-foot shuffle back to their cars.

If truth be told, it was the younger performers in the parade who bore the brunt of the conditions with the most grace. They played and sang, performed kick lines and dances, artfully tumbled and backbends and did handstands on the pommel horse.

If they were feeling the affects of the chilly night, they weren’t letting it affect their performances.

What a bunch of wimps we adults were — standing on the asphalt, letting the cold agitate us, waving forward marchers and vehicles that found themselves dawdling and lagging behind the flow of the parade.

As my feet became blocks and rivulets trickled within the raised wrinkles on my fingers, I thought of my grandmother.

This was all her fault.

A child of Newfoundland, she had come south to New England with the somewhat naive expectation that at least it would be warmer. Like Rick Blaine moving to Casablanca for the waters, she was misinformed.

Still, she had made herself a life within the howling ocean winds of winter and bestowed upon at least one of her grandchildren the genetic gift that keeps on giving — a decided lack of circulation that neither heavy gloves or heated socks could stem.

When, a lifetime ago it seems, I had been young and oblivious, winter had been a time of snowball fights and sledding, of building forts and hockey games played on frozen ponds until the sun went down.

If we were cold, we certainly didn’t know it. Staying active was the best defense in warding off rational thought. A sharp, stiff breeze in your face was a dragon to slay; at your back, if was a superpower that carried you beyond physical limitations.

It really wasn’t until high school that I started to understand that this cold sensation wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Waiting for yet another lagging parade participant to get on with getting on, I thought back to the first (and, so far, last) time that I had marched down a Main Street to welcome the Christmas season.

Our high school church group had somehow got its act together long enough to put together a float atop a long-bed trailer. A half-dozen or so costumed classmates were staged as a modern nativity scene, while the rest of us marched behind the truck, singing carols.

It was cold that day as well, and as it become more difficult to walk (or sing, for that matter) in any sort of coordinated manner, the task was made increasingly more difficult by our place in the parade line — directly behind the entry from a local equestrian team.

Even if the blood were still coursing with any regularity through our feet, the best dance moves of the mid-1970s were not going to be adroit enough to keep our boots from passing through the minefield unscathed.

If there were horses in the Ashland parade, they either trotted past unseen, or they had come after the point when these older and oblivious bones were still moving well enough to get back to the car.

The temperature and my grandmother’s genetics had dictated the course of action once again.

There was, however, a donkey in the parade — carrying a woman dressed as what we took to be the Virgin Mary, as a Joseph walked aside them holding a rope tether.

They had sort of just appeared — with no banner proclaiming their home would fall victim to climate change to announce them — and made their way down the street with no musical accompaniment beyond the clopping of the animal’s hooves along the asphalt.

They served as a reminder as well. A reminder that not everyone welcoming the season along the street that night could retreat to someplace warm and familiar.

A reminder that there are more painful challenges than spending a couple of hours outside, standing in the cold.

Mail Tribune copy desk chief Robert Galvin can be reached by the fireplace at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com.