It seemed the worst fires were always the ones during the coldest days of the winter. Those January spells when temperatures never left single digits and the wind raced out of the northwest like a freight train from the North Pole.
Typically the fires were a result of old extension cords that shorted out or outlets that were overloaded - always with space heaters, occasionally a candle left unattended on a windowsill that spread to the drapes. Regardless, these were the ones my father hated with a passion.
The ones when water froze on his jacket and added ten pounds to already heavy clothing; underneath his body clad in layers of long johns, sweatshirts, and woolen socks, the total effect making him look like the Michelin Man. It amazed me how he handled the extreme conditions; how tough he was in the face of such frigid temperatures.
During idle moments at home, my father talked of what it was like to fight a winter fire. How his face felt like it was inches from a blast furnace and his back was leaning into an iceberg; and that all he had to do to resolve the issue was face the other direction for a minute or two.
But there was one tidbit he never mentioned until my junior year of high school when I began training through the winter. On a cold Saturday morning, the first sub-zero temperature of winter, I learned a fireman's tip which I carried throughout my running career.
That morning the thermometer outside the kitchen window showed minus two degrees, steady winds rattling the storm windows, the effect making me pause in thought. I wondered if I should add another layer before I stepped into the cold. Would my four t-shirts and two pairs of mittens be enough?
Dad looked up from the newspaper as if sensing my internal debate.
"Did you remember to put a sock in your jock?"
Dress socks or tube socks?
"What?" My eyebrows furrowed into a V.
"You know, to keep the family jewels warm." He nodded his head and took a sip of coffee.
I gave him a weak smile and pulled the hood over my stocking hat, uncertain whether he was joking or serious about the suggestion. The blast of air that hit me when I closed the door left me wondering.
Let me tell you. He wasn't kidding. I ran the last fifteen minutes of the six miles with a hand in my jock, my "jewels" so cold that I expected to find ice cubes. After that he didn't have to remind me about a sock. It was always placed carefully.
Sometimes I even used two.
Enjoy this story? Be sure to check out the rest of the website where you can purchase my books, "A Golden Era" and "A Long Road Ahead" which tell the stories of the high school and college running careers of a father in the 70s and his son in the 2000s.