Sometimes, you have to conquer spring, just like winter conquered you.
With a winter like we had with bone-chilling temperatures and a seemingly endless onslaught of snowstorms, I had to fight back.
So there I was last weekend, standing on my deck in an icy snowbank. The temperatures had retreated into the 30s as evening was setting in, but I was not going to give in.
In one hand, I gripped a cold beer. In the other was a pair of tongs. On the grill was a full complement of Johnsonville bratwurst, which had spent the past hour in a beer Jacuzzi preparing for the fate that all bratwurst aspire to.
No sane man would recommend doing what I am doing. I could have easily seared them under the broiler in the warmth of our own kitchen, but this was an act of rebellion, of armed insurrection against the evils of winter. Well, that is, if you consider barbecue tongs to be arms.
The salting, the shoveling, the snowblowing, the cold cars, the chapped cheeks, the cabin fever, the frozen feet, the wind-chill warnings, the ice dams, the roof raking, the windshield scrapping, the salt staining my shoes and jacket, the feeling as fat as a snowman with all my clothing layers every time I leave the house — all the other injustices of a Wisconsin winter, including the pandemic, were all slayed in one moment.
When that gas ignited in the grill, all crimes of winter were forgotten and forgiven. Everything was going to be all right. Summer was coming and my “spring” cookout was going to make sure of it.
Even though the beer in my hand was not as cold as the air temperature I was standing in outside, it was this act of defiance that made it taste like the best beer I have had in years, or at least since fall. Drinking a beer while tending to the grill is what we live for. The only thing missing was Bob Uecker calling baseball on the radio.
After dinner, I further cleansed winter by driving in the car to the custard stand and getting myself the biggest turtle sundae I could safely consume, because that is another sign that winter is here, when you can go sit in the car, even a frigid car, and enjoy a sundae. It isn’t summer or anything close, but it’s good enough to pretend that it is summer. And that is all we need in Wisconsin. The first sundae of spring beats the first robin any day of the season.
The next day, I even gave into the voices that were nagging me in my head. You know the voices:
“Scott,” they would cry out faintly. “We’re waiting!”
Whenever I would pull in the driveway or look out the window, the voices would return. The message might be a little different, but the meaning was unchanged:
“Scott, you know you’re late. Everyone in the neighborhood is talking about it. You might as well give in. Go ahead and give in. It’s time. It’s well past time.”
It was so cold and this winter so bleak that I didn’t have the will, but now the voices were getting louder. They were imaginary voices, just in my head, of course, but they seemed real and the guilt trip was unrelenting.
I finally succumbed to them — and took down the outdoor Christmas decorations. Instantly the voices stopped, and Christmas was declared officially over.
Forget groundhogs or wooly caterpillars. You know when winter is over by three things at the Peterson house: The grill has been fired up. The first sundae was devoured in the car. And the Christmas decorations are back in the garage rafters. Oh yeah, and when the voices in my head stop complaining.