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Freezing temperatures revive cold weather memories of the Sunshine State

Here's what I like about a really cold Florida winter: the novelty. • I don't like the suffering it causes to the poor souls who have to stay out in it at night, and for their sake I hope it warms up soon. • But I am a Florida boy who grew up in a house without air-conditioning. If you hear me complain about our record cold I'm just being sociable. • In Florida, summer can last eight months in a bad year. Winter? Maybe a week. In a good year, maybe two or three weeks. • Old-time Florida boys like cold, even the Jack-Frost-nipping-at-our-nose-cold we've experienced lately. We enjoy the challenge of singing Orange Blossom Special through chattering teeth. We even like scraping ice off a pickup's windshield. In the humidity of summer, our ice memories will help keep us cool.

My parents moved from Chicago to Miami in 1951. In the summer. My mother never forgave my father for his faulty judgment. She was terrified of the precocious cockroaches that scuttled out of the bathroom corners after dark and the slimy slugs that crept majestically across the kitchen wall. The heat was a gift from Mercury, the humidity a kiss from Venus. We slept on top of the sheets and hoped for a breeze.

I was 17 when my dad bought his first air conditioner. As he and a neighbor installed it in the kitchen wall, it was like the circus had come to town. With excitement in the air, my brother and I rushed through the house closing windows. My mother, flushed with pleasure, turned the switch of the great machine, which rumbled and howled before spitting out air that reminded her of a Chicago girlhood now gone.

Winter? We almost never had winters in Miami until 1962, when a rare arctic cold front made it all the way down and killed our banana trees. My dad bought a gas heater that we seldom used. I never knew a Floridian who owned a fireplace until I moved to St. Petersburg in 1977. That was the year, by the way, it last snowed on the Sunshine City.

I have a fireplace in my St. Petersburg townhome now. In a good winter, I might use it two or three times. I have already exceeded that number this winter; before long I'm going to have to sweep out the hearth. Florida boys like using the word "hearth.''

You know what else this Florida boy likes about a cold winter day?

I like wearing my lumberjack shirt and my steel-toed construction boots. I like wearing the mountain man hat I bought in North Carolina five years ago. Don't quote me, but I like seeing long-legged Florida women in knee-high boots on a windswept Florida avenue. Will I get in trouble for saying that? Yes? Perhaps I should play it safe and talk about oranges.

As a Florida boy, I feel strongly about the need to eat oranges about a week after a good cold snap. Old-timers say that cold weather sweetens up an orange, though maybe it's just that a cold orange tastes better.

Can I tell you another reason I like a cold Florida winter's day?

Manatees.

I can take advantage of the weather and tell people about manatees. An extreme winter can be cruel to the warm-blooded sea cows. A manatee can develop pneumonia and die from the cold, just as surely as they can be killed by a boat propeller.

On a cold day, I like taking out-of-town visitors to the TECO Energy plant at Apollo Beach in Hillsborough County. Manatees by the dozens, sometimes by the hundreds, lie like giant sweet potatoes in the warm discharge waters next to the pipes. You can watch them with a breaking heart from a special platform high above. Men, wear your lumberjack shirts. Women, feel free to pull on those sexy boots.

Fishers, men or women, need to don insulated waders if they are serious about their craft in January, when there is no better time to catch spotted seatrout.

Wade into Tampa Bay and shuffle toward a deep spot, a hidey-hole for trout snuggling along the bottom.

This is not a fishing magazine, but for heaven's sake arm yourself with a spinning rod, a reel spooled with 8-pound test line and a S38-18 MirrOlure, the one with a green back. The MirrOlure, a plastic bait bristling with hooks, apparently looks like a scrumptious minnow to a chilled but hungry trout.

Cast your MirrOlure into the hole. Let it sink. Reel very slowly. Feel a bump? You might have a trout. Set the hook. Reel it in.

In the summer, trout flesh can be mealy and laden with worms. In the winter, the trout flesh is firm and worm-free and good to eat.

After filleting your catch, don't dare touch your lumberjack shirt with fishy hands.

Jeff Klinkenberg can be reached at klink@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8727.

if you go

See the manatees

TECO Energy's Manatee Viewing Center, 6990 Dickman Road, Apollo Beach, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Parking and admission are free. Call (813) 228-4289 for more information.

Freezing temperatures revive cold weather memories of the Sunshine State 01/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 8, 2010 4:07pm]

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