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Winnipeg’s winter has brought out the mean in me

JOREN CULL/The Globe and Mail

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This winter has been a difficult one. No, strike that. This winter has left me dumbstruck and beaten down, bookended by an endless stream (frozen, of course) of insanely cold nights and snow mounds that rival small apartment complexes – though slightly cheaper in cost.

The winter woes we've faced in Winnipeg this year have oddly begun to resemble my own growing checklist of middle-aged ailments.

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It began with water pipes that froze and reduced their flow to a mere trickle. Luckily though, for both our home and myself, nothing has burst – yet. Next was a plugged outlet valve on the sewer line that subsequently filled the house with sewer gas. A quick scouring of the pipes solved that problem. For the house, that is. I unfortunately had to start eating more vegetables and less bacon-wrapped bacon.

Then there were the squirrels in the attic. A more serious problem for the house, though more and more frequently I found myself standing in our yard muttering and shaking my fist at various small-sized mammals as they inched closer to our home.

Along with these winter classics, we were also able to enjoy some new seasonal hits.

Our Christmas lights were stolen from the front of our house two weeks before Christmas. A few weeks later, in what one can only assume was the second part of a devilishly clever ransom scheme, there was the pilfering of our car's extension cord while plugged in. And though there was a "Who steals Christmas lights?" moment akin to the Grinch, the absconding of the extension cord hefted a more spiritually crushing blow. As it's the lifeline to your car during winter, stealing one is the moral equivalent of, say, making your child publicly wear some out-of-context traditional garb that's loosely associated with your ancestry. It's just so … mean. To this day I still can't shake the great Lederhosen fiasco of Grade 4 from my memory.

Oh, and then someone stole our snow shovel.

And so it was against this backdrop of winter joy that I found myself reaching around a small group of older women mingling in the citrus section of the supermarket. They were grumbling about the selection laid out in front of them, and how they could not – nay, would not – eat anything offered here: not after they had spent the past three months picking fruit directly from the tree.

Twick! The squirrels in the attic had been awoken.

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Now, I certainly do not begrudge anyone the opportunity to leave during the peak of our cold season. But upon your return, please, please, do not belittle the hard, dried-out greyish lumps known as oranges that I have come to love.

I am truly happy for you and the good fortune that has afforded you the opportunity to spend the season in a place where your biggest decision each day was: "Flip flops or sandals? With or without socks?" However, you must be careful upon your return, for those people who are around you now are vitamin-D deprived and we will turn on you in a hot Arizona minute.

As I wandered away from the grandes dames of the fruit aisle and went in search of some Trojan "Her Pleasure Ecstasy" condoms that I could sneak into one of their shopping carts for an awkward discovery at the checkout – "Oh my, Joanna!" – I realized that this was the moment I'd been waiting for all winter.

The retirees are returning.

San Juan Capistrano may have its swallows, and Amsterdam its tulips, but there is no spring ritual that rivals the sight of the annual migration back to Winnipeg.

With their golden skin, outdated viewpoints, and questionable control of cellphone volume buttons, they slowly begin to repopulate our vacant shops and streets in March, awaiting a summer that they will undoubtedly find much too hot and certainly far too buggy.

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It is only a matter of days now before the radio call-in shows begin to fill with the sweet thrum of their complaints about the cessation of door-to-door postal service, the city's waste service department and the colour blue.

As I left the store, my spirits were lifted and my senses heightened. It was as if I had been awoken from a long hibernation and was just now able to see all the other miracles of spring that had begun to emerge around me: the desperate clanging of hammers beating down on ice dams nestled deep in the valleys of 80-year-old roofs (a result of insulation composed entirely of shredded newspaper and desiccated mice); the multitude of abandoned cars like lost sheep littering the back lanes, where the hard snowpack has begun to loosen, creating a quicksand-like slush 30 centimetres deep.

Upon my return home, I began to shovel (er, sweep) the driveway yet again after a mid-March snowfall. I gazed toward the sky and smiled as I saw the silver glint of a plane returning from somewhere south, its belly sagging with the weight of Caribbean knick-knacks and brightly printed beach wear.

The retirees are truly coming home and that means there are just about 60 days of winter remaining.

Rob Krause lives in Winnipeg.

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