I remember my first winter in New York. I thought I knew what cold was~ I remember "hog killing" weather when the days were cold enough that the hogs were butchered. My daddy would get his pistol, the axe and the hacksaw and go kill one of our hogs. I remember the steam rising from the heat of the draining blood. I remember the hotness of the fire underneath the rendering kettle and my face burned and my butt froze. So I knew cold, I thought.
But the first time I stepped into one of those canyons of concrete and the wind hit me, I realized I hadn't a clue.
I couldn't breathe, the wind sucked the breath from my lungs in a gasp. The tears froze on my lashes and the very marrow of my bones ached. My old brown cloth coat was inadequate. I turned and went back to my apartment where I pulled on longjohns, a sweater and a hooded sweatshirt. I added mittens and put my coat back on. I felt and looked ridiculous but I was warm.
Back on the streets, the wind was still brutal. Two pairs of socks couldn't take the sting out of the sidewalk. I couldn't fathom how the homeless survived.
One woman always sat in Times Square, wrapped in packing blankets, burlap sacks wrapped around her feet, rocking and singing into the wind. It was so cold I couldn't even smell her stench.
Once I bought her coffee. I just held it out wordlessly, afraid to offer it, afraid of her, yet wanting to give her a bit of warmth.
She looked at me, her eyes lost in a mass of wrinkles and grime. She looked at the coffee. She reached for it and for a moment our hands touched.
She opened the lid, letting the steam rise around her face, bathing in the rich aroma. She looked at me and winked. I smiled, bowed slightly and walked away.
That day I found that there was a tiny bit of warmth in the city. I found it within myself and within the face of a stranger.