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Silver Threads: Getting warmer with age

Where were you when all hail broke loose Sunday night? Our mini dachshund, Heidi, was under a bed, probably thinking — as Chicken Little did — that the sky was falling. If you weren’t on the West Bank, then your neighborhood probably didn’t get the brunt of the unexpected little ice storm that tore through.

I’ve never seen so much hail fall at one time; it sounded as though the fireworks freaks of July 4th and New Year’s Eve had gotten together and decided to give it another go. That day, the week, the month, this new year has been 50 shades of gray — just wedging in another literary allusion here — so the unusual storm was hardly as scary as our nervous pet would have it.

But I don’t remember a Carnival season more fraught with dismal weather and threats of more of it since I’ve been a New Orleanian. Our climate’s changing, has been, I think, since I retired from my job, which was reached every week day via our kitchen door and into the attached garage and then the air-conditioned car and on to the T-P garage and up the elevator to my desk in a cool office.

I’ve told you how warm I’ve felt during these golden days of leisure, often roaming out into the summer sun at mid-day although aware of the downside to that freedom as well as the increased susceptibility of old age. It’s getting hotter, wetter, dryer and colder: And in this town it gets that way all year, not just during the appropriate seasons. In short, we simply have more weather than many people and even more than we used to.

Oh, I know, it’s all about the Gulf, and the tides, and the temperatures of the water, the flow of air from up north, the melting of the ice in the Arctic, and — perhaps — air pollution like Al Gore and some of the scientists say. But maybe not.

Lately I got to thinking about a little book titled “Whimsical Madame New Orleans,” a short work published by Carmelite Janvier in 1928 with pencil sketches by Standish Buell, and personifying our city as a an imperious, impetuous Creole woman who arranges the weather to please herself — and sometimes to aggravate the tourists. I dug it out from among the tomes my mother-in-law left when she closed her bookstore here 54 years ago, and I quote: “… she kept her days loose … in a box, not put away neatly in files. There is nothing hard and fast therefore about when each has to come, and labels mean very little to her. Just because a thing is marked April is no reason that she can see for not putting it into December if she happens to want something like that to fill out December.

“She even put a March day in July once, but it was too terrifying and the people thought the end of the world was at hand, so she doesn’t do that any more, or at least she hasn’t lately. There are few who would be courageous enough to predict what she might do another time!

“But this time it was an August day that her hand chanced upon so she slipped it in with a chuckle. The people gasped for breath in their winter clothes and she watched them and was much amused.”

How many times have I, driving into the Quarter, felt sympathy for out-of-towners sweltering in woolens during a winter day of 80-degrees? Or huddled in their summer shorts and tee-shirts in doorways to escape an unseasonably nippy 24 hours?

I think Ms. Janvier may have been onto something with her “Whimsical Madame New Orleans.” What our visitors don’t know is that everything probably will be different tomorrow.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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