Is Minnesota truly cold? No lie

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 27, 2002

The look of downtown Austin has gone through some changes this past year with businesses opening up to cater to the growing Hispanic population in Austin. There are two Mexican restaurants and several tiendas have typical Mexican foods. I like the growing diversity of Austin. I have purchased Mexican soft drinks and homemade tortillas. I have yet to know how to cook the fresh cactus that is sold in the tiendas, but I love the fresh variety of spices and the many different colored peppers available.

With this growing ethnic population, we are becoming exposed to new flavors and different merchandise in our south central Minnesota town. As different the food and merchandise may be to some southern Minnesotans, I wonder how the new residents that are thousands of miles from their native soils feel about the customs and food that we natives take for granted.

I have seen first hand the culture shock that my sister-in-law Mamik, who is from Jakarta, Indonesia, has gone through in adapting to our far northern climate. Many Americans know Jakarta as the setting for the Rogers and Hammerstein musical "The King and I" and the movie "Anna and the King."

Email newsletter signup

Mamik moved to the farm I grew up near Albert Lea in August 1995 to live with my mother and brother Steve, her new husband. Mamik couldn't get a job right away, so Steve suggested that she make money by raising chickens for meat, as many people like to eat free-range chickens. Steve told her that broiler chickens could be butchered six weeks after purchasing them. Mamik was not raised on a farm, but she is enterprising and thought this would be a quick way to make money. Mamik brought 200 two-day-old chicks, and three weeks later she bought 200 more and three weeks later she bought 200 more. Mamik butchered the first 200 chicks and made a decent profit and with this money she purchased 400 more baby chicks in November.

The barn she kept the chicks in was drafty and not insulated. My mother told Mamik she had made a huge mistake ordering baby chicks so late in the season with winter coming. Mamik asked me in her broken English, "Why mom so worried? It not that cold here."

"It could get cold any day and then it might snow. You will have a hard time keeping the chicks warm in that drafty barn," I said.

"How cold it get?" asked Mamik.

"It can get so cold that Albert Lea Lake will freeze hard and the ice will be so thick that you would be able to drive a car on it," I said.

"You lie," said Mamik. "I do not believe that. No one can drive a car on water. What will you plant on your farm now that you have harvested your beans and corn?"

"We can't plant anything as winter is coming and the ground will freeze," I said.

"You lie and you waste land. You should plant another crop," said Mamik.

I didn't answer her or try to explain further, as I knew that winter in Minnesota was beyond anything Mamik had ever experienced.

Winter came full force a week later. Mamik lost almost all 400 baby chicks she had ordered a week before. The older chicks' feet and combs froze, the wind blew through the barn and she

couldn't keep the chickens warm enough. Mamik was devastated by her loss.

With the onset of winter, Mamik experienced winter driving. The first

time she and Steve drove their car through a whiteout storm, Mamik

screamed with delight. Steve said he was scared as he plowed through the deep snow hoping they wouldn't get stranded in a snowdrift.

That was a really long, cold winter. The temps went way below zero for days. In January when the days were short and the nights long, I found Mamik wrapped in a blanket in a fetal position on the couch crying, "I am so cold. I am cold to my bones. I have never been so cold in my entire life. I know that I am in hell because my grandmother told me that hell is always cold and dark and that is what it is like here everyday."

I said, "This isn't hell, it's Minnesota."

My sisters and I bought Mamik long johns, gloves and warm socks. She learned how to dress for the weather. She got extremely sick of butchering and eating chickens. When spring finally arrived, she and Steve moved to Minneapolis where they still live and she connected with other Indonesians. Mamik still doesn't look forward to our winters, but she says no Minnesota winter has been as long or hard as her first one.

She went to Jakarta several years ago and told her family and friends about Minnesota winters and they all said, "You lie."

Sheila Donnelly can be reached at 434-2233 or by e-mail at