Texas

The snow and ice from last week melted and the last of the cold winds dissipated overnight. The experts say there may be more of this kind of weather on the way, but for now, the Sun Belt is itself once again.

While people in Washington shiver, folks here have taken off their coats again and are facing the world the way the Good Lord meant them to. My family and I caught some of the Washington winter last week and fled to Texas over the weekend. Flying back, the pilot made a point of showing us the snow that dropped over North Texas, like looking at dinosaur or bird fossils.

But before you start feeling resentful toward those in the Sun Belt, let me say that there is nothing worse than cold weather here. Over the past year, I have taken an unscientific survey of northerners who moved here and to a person they claim they were never as cold up North as they are down here. I don't have an explanation for it, but it's true. Relatives and friends in for the holidays, layered with wool shirts and sweaters, confirmed my findings through chattering teeth.

People in Minnesota know how to live with cold weather; people in Texas do not. They buy flimsy clothes and live in uninsulated houses. Many heat their houses with odd-looking grates that are turned red hot with jets of natural gas. The heat only radiates a few feet, so when the blue northers sweep down from the Panhandle, people here start to huddle.

A columnist in Dallas yesterday offered readers tips on etiquette in a cold house. "Are you morally obligated to burn up half the gas in Texas just because house guests can't take a little chill?" he asked. A year ago, my answser would have been no, but that was because I brought the energy conservation ethic of the North with me when I moved to Texas. Today, I sing a different song. I can best explain that through illustration.

The house we rent here has a gas jet in the fireplace. This is not one of those fake-log phony fireplaces that burns gas. It is a real woodburner, but in case the logs are a little reluctant to burn, the gas jet can be converted quickly into a blow torch that will ignite almost anything.

When we first moved in, I wouldn't even touch the valve that unleashed this dragon, it so offended my sense of social responsibility. After all, in Washington our home is heated in part with a wonderful, energy-efficient wood-burning stove.

Well, it's taken us a year to adapt to the Sun Belt. The wind whistles through our house here and we pile on blankets at night as we never did in Washington. On Sunday, when the temperature dipped down into the 20s and I decided to light a fire in the fireplace, I didn't hesitate. That old gas jet had the fire blazing in minutes, and my conscience hardly felt a thing. It was still frozen.