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Throwback Thursday: Polar Vortexes I Have Known

Photo by Jeanne Grunert

No reason for this image. I just love it. I did a photo shoot today for my consulting website, and this was one of the images I took. I fell in love with it. Just like falling in love with your own prose, falling in love with your own images isn’t recommended. Other people never think that the ones you love are your best, and vice-versa. There is something strangely compelling in this image for me. It’s the antique desk standing in my office. It still has the key to lock it. I needed an image for “turn key” service, so there you have it.

This week was one of the coldest we’ve experienced since moving to Virginia.  We herded all the outdoor cats inside for two nights, and I’m glad it was only for two nights. Shy Boy peed everywhere and Groucho and Shy Boy decided to wrestle every night around midnight. We were cranky and sleep deprived by the time the temps warmed up enough to allow the feline family back outside.

The lowest reading we took here at the house was 6 degrees F on Monday night. A memory hovered at the edges of my consciousness every time I heard the newscasters speaking about the single-digit, record-breaking temperatures. What was it? Why did this date and the shock of icy air make me feel like I should remember something?

Then it hit me! The last polar vortex (extremely cold weather) I can recall was 10 years ago. In 2004, I was flying home from a business trip. Each year, I would take vacation time from work from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day. Then I would return to my Manhattan office for two days, only to leave on the first business trip of the year the following Wednesday. The company held a national sales and product training conference the first week in January. It was always held in a different section of the country, and that year, I remember it must have been in Texas or California, because I flew into JFK airport instead of LaGuardia.

It was 4 degrees at midnight, and our plane barely made it into JFK before they had to start grounding flights. It was too cold for the ground crews to tend the planes. It was almost midnight and I was exhausted. I was standing next to the baggage carousel when I saw an elegantly dressed woman on the other side of the carousel. The baggage claim area was almost entirely deserted, with just a handful of flights making it into JFK. Few were leaving because of the cold.

I didn’t want to stare at the lady in the elegant coat and tasteful gold jewelry. This was, after all, New York City. You don’t stare. Not because it’s rude, but because someone might think you’re crazy or going to rob them. Either may require them to peremptorily deck you in the nose, so you don’t stare, but do the discrete glance there – glance away – tie your shoe or something so you can sneak a peek without alarming the other person.

I did my glance there-glance away and I realized she was, too. She recognized me. I recognized her. The problem?

I could not for the life of me remember her name or where I knew her from.

As the baggage carousel blared into life and began wheezily turning on its access, our eyes met across the conveyor belt. Suddenly I was yelling “Linda!” and the woman shouted “Jeanne!”

We gathered our bags and met near the exit.  It was a woman named Linda who had been the VP of Human Resources at the very first “real” job I had ever held.  I had met her while I was in college, and she had interviewed me for an administrative assistant position for the VP of Marketing. It was a lateral move from my position of advertising coordinator, which was the lowest run on the marketing staff totem pole, but I’d heard through the grapevine that my position was going to be eliminated in the next year or two. I loved that company. It was a small publishing company on Long Island and one of the best jobs I’d ever worked. The people were wonderful, the work a good fit, the pay generous, and the commute a lovely 20 minute ride from my house. So I wanted to keep working there, but I never did get that job. I knew Linda had felt bad about that; she had recommended me for the positions, but another gal had snagged it.

Linda and I caught up, and I had the rare change to say what I’d always held in my heart. “Linda, thank you for giving me a chance…”

I was able to say “thank you” to her. And she surprised me by hugging me back and saying, “I always knew you would go places. You were so over qualified for that position but I knew you wanted to stay at the company, and everyone spoke so highly of you. I’m so glad we had a chance to meet and catch up.”

We parted at the terminal, and I slid into the waiting sedan while the driver, whose Russian accent and heavy wool coat with fur collar made me think that 4 degrees was nothing compared to Moscow or Siberia, complained I had kept him waiting. It was 4 degrees, I was freezing cold, but happy, heading home, and marveling at the coincidence that brought me together to say “thank you” to a woman I had last seen 16 years earlier.

That, my friends, is what the single digit temperatures reminded me of. Thankfulness and gratitude.

A memory of another day, another time, another life, and polar vortices – vortexes? I have known.

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