Growing up in Minnesota, I know all about the First Frost.
It came like a funeral wreath to a birthday party; like floaties in Kool Aid; like dental floss in a halloween dvds for kids bag. The weather was always perfect prior to the First Frost. The Killing Frost, my grandparents called it glumly. The blue in the sky was brighter than a bottle of Windex, and the clouds rolled about as ponderous as performing cotton elephants. Crisp leaves square danced around the curb and gutters. I could wear my Twins windbreaker or not -- the temperature hardly registered on me at all. The sun had lost all viciousness and fell on me as a purring cat curling up on my arms. The evenings were once again full of new episodes of Red Skelton and Dick Van Dyke. I secretly had a crush on Cathy from the Patty Duke Show -- and a new fall season would reawaken my budding libido.
And then our avuncular TV weatherman, Bud Kraehling, would apologetically announce the First Frost. Indian summer was over. Everything would die back and turn black, and there would be no snow to cover the massacre for several more weeks. Just a bleak, withered landscape. "The harvest is past, the summer is over, and we are not saved." Perhaps I was overly sensitive to atmospheric conditions, but I always reverted to wetting the bed for a few days after the First Frost.
Somehow, I survived the First Frosts of childhood to grow up and bring forth a quiver full of children myself. I endeavored to shield them from the devastating effects of the First Frost. As soon as I heard the ingratiating voice of Mike Lynch forecast the First Frost, I would bound into the living room, where the kids were sprawled on the floor and couch, hobbling large parts of their brains with Nintendo games.
"Guess what, my little poppets!" I would gush at them.
They would just gaze at me, without speaking -- silently asking "What now, old man?"
"Jack Frost is coming to visit us tonight! Isn't that nifty? We'd better get ready for him, don't you think?"
They did not even try to humor me. At some silent, intuitive command they turned their backs to me in unison and went back to Nintendo Land.
All right. If I couldn't catch them with honey, I'd give 'em a little vinegar.
"Hey! You lazy bums, get off your duffs! We gotta put some bed sheets over the tomatoes so they don't freeze tonight. Move it, you couch potatoes!"
The box holding the ancient and yellowed linen sheets was in the garage -- somewhere. I made sure to put it someplace where I could lay my hands on it easily each year after pulling them off the plants, but each year it seemed like my idea of where I could lay my hands on them easily would change radically. By the time I would discover the box, thoughtfully tucked under the storm windows (oh-oh, weren't they up yet?) the kids would be gamboling through the family vegetable patch, bombarding each other with overripe tomatoes and smashing the zucchini with their insolent feet.
"Get over here!" I snarled, handing each one a sheet and pointing to the weedy tomato plant they should cover. Some of the plants were taller than the kids, and besides, these old sheets were exactly what a ghost would wear to haunt a garden, so I had to snatch the sheets from them and put them on the tomato plants myself. Inevitably, I would trip on an overlooked zucchini that had grown to the size of a watermelon and fall flat on my face. This resulted in general hilarity on the part of those lazy cretins I was trying to protect from the devastation of the First Frost. Now I felt like murdering them.
But I did not give up. The night of the First Frost I made it a habit to have plenty of caramels and apples on hand, so we could make caramel apples around the kitchen table after dinner. Unfortunately, at least one of the children would cram as many caramels in his or her mouth as possible and then begin to choke. The resulting Heimlich maneuver would shoot a gob of caramel right through a window pane. The apples were bound to be wormy anyways.
Today, when I heard the First Frost was coming, I made sure the hot chocolate stash is full, got a blanket out of the hall closet, and laid in a stock of The Patty Duke Show DVDs. Leave the tomatoes on the vine SEmD I'm going to enjoy myself.
* Tim Torkildson works as a consultant, providing content for websites such as scripturepoetry.com. His work also appears regularly in the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper.