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Monday, December 22, 2014  |   Madison, WI: 34.0° F  
MADLAND: A group blog about life in Madison, Wisconsin
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Madland: Madisonians survive the polar vortex, but we weren't always so lucky
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Having good boots, gloves, and long underwear is a privilege.
Having good boots, gloves, and long underwear is a privilege.
Credit:Kristian Knutsen

I take the idea of freezing to death seriously. It's been in my mind ever since stepping into the backyard of Lakside Press 19 winters ago with my colleagues and seeing the frozen body of Terry McGovern, daughter to late liberal Senator George McGovern.

Terry, a 45-year-old mother of two, lived here in Madison. She had campaigned vigorously for her dad, volunteered in the community, and tried hard to pull her life together. But she suffered from depression and alcoholism, and she had been in and out of detox 68 times. She drank so much on Dec. 12, 1994, that she collapsed behind Lakeside and never woke up.

I was working at Lakeside that morning, along with fellow printers Norm Stockwell and Jennifer James. Terry was so small we thought she was a child at first. That image will haunt me for the rest of my life. A frozen human being.

It was a sobering moment in more ways than one. I was still in my twenties then, and thought I was invincible. Since then, I've added so many layers to my winter wardrobe that I didn't really mind the cold when I went out to my mom's New Glarus farm to help with chores on Monday when the wind chill was hovering around -40°F (and °C too!).

Thankfully, the polar vortex moved on from most places, leaving us to believe that above zero Fahrenheit temperatures are acceptable, while near freezing is downright balmy. NBC News reported at least 17 deaths connected to the bitter cold.

But Madison did something right this time around. We got to keep our kids home from school for two extra days, and apparently did not lose anyone because of the cold. A homeless man collapsed outside Grace Episcopal Church on Sunday night and died in the hospital, but his death was not attributed to the extreme temperatures.

When it's cold, layer up, people. If you've got the warm stuff, wear it. Having good boots, gloves, and long underwear is a privilege. Wear a damn hat, no matter what your hair looks like.

And if you have more than enough, consider a donation to Porchlight, The Road Home or another organization that helps the homeless.

And remember: spring always comes.

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