Last weekend, Saturday was snow covered and Sunday was arctic, but that wasn’t the real reason I stayed in bed. The movie that was part of a weekend Netflix binge included a scene where the main character was buried under her quilts too. When the morning’s sun woke her, her bare feet crept out from under the bulk of the quilt. The toes barely tapped the wood floor and she sucked them back up into the mattress.
Bare feet plus bare floor in winter is hard. Even the thinnest of rugs can take a necessary edge off the sharp sensation. Last weekend, while my own feet stung against the bare floor, I folded pairs upon pairs upon pairs of socks. That’s the bulk of laundry in February. Last weekend, laundry was about the only meaningful thing I mustered the energy to do.
On Monday, I tossed my winter boots into the back seat of my car before leaving for a three hour drive north for work in still subzero temperatures. My father reminded me that correct footwear was always a concern, both for the expected and not. The worst case scenarios:
What if I had to walk. . .
What if I had to sustain the urge to move forward. . .
What if the temperature of my feet was the difference between arriving at my chosen destination, my needed destination, my next destination. . .
Cold feet. This image of trudging in the snow stayed with me. Cold feet. The phrase conjured the idea of weddings and aisles and never getting started down the path. Cold feet stopped a decision from starting. My mind wandered to the balls of ice that clung to the hair between my dog’s paws last weekend when it snowed. Then, I considered the reality my car might not start after a frigid night outside. Cold feet surely could also mean that paths may not be finished. Destinations chosen. Ideas for endings started but not reached.
I Googled, “where did the phrase cold feet originate’. I quickly learned it was not a new question.
Here are a few of the top answers.
The short answer, Stephen Crane and his novella Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (which was published in 1896), Crane writes, “I knew this was the way it would be. They got cold feet.”
Key words are ‘timid’, ‘disheartened’, ‘lack of enthusiasm or courage’. The words are connected and yet not the same. Words like ‘timid’ center the obstacle against moving forward in the walker while ‘lack of enthusiasm’ I would equate more with a mismatch in terrain, or context. In fact, this would be my own support of a less supported claim that the phrase is Italian in origin, meaning “to recede from a difficult position.” I fluctuated as to the origin of my sensation. A thin rug provided some relief. Was this enough to remain in my current place? Was the ache the uncertainty of the projects I had yet to start?
Should I consider the climate itself? If in fact, I was suited for where I found myself, I would be like the ducks who in fact cannot feel cold in their feet no matter the frigid temperature of the water. Ducks have no nerves or blood vessels in their feet. Was my body heat no longer enough, my inner passion for the work? Or, was I unlike the duck and mismatched with the pond I swim in.
In the dark depths of winter, how could I warm my feet? I Googled the response to that question instead. The top two sites were opposites. One fought the literal origins and the other, the literary. Still, the intersection between the two was simple and practical. No matter where, or who you are, get moving.
February cold comes and goes. So does the sunshine. The weather often fooled you into accepting and celebrating what you were able to withstand. This weekend, the temperature was warmer during my walk this weekend. My dog did not choose the road. Instead, he turned around at the top of the hill and cut down the field.
“Solo, I don’t think this is the walk Auntie wanted.” I was telling him, but I was also asking her.
“I’m really not cold,” she responded. This was something I could never quite believe with her choice of winter footwear. Tennis shoes.
I nodded. We continued walking through the snow and brush. “I was so unmotivated last weekend. All day,” I offered.
“I couldn’t walk because I was tired from shoveling.”
“No. That’s not what I mean. Just watched TV all day.” Cold feet. I had been frozen. No matter the subzero temperatures, I would not have moved.
We slid and stumbled.
She spoke again. “It’s the ground underneath that’s hard. When it’s snow covered, I can’t see it.”
Hmm. Same path but not the same reasons for feeling uncomfortable. All our feet, dogs’ paws included, perceived the unseen path forward differently.
"You could take the track." I nodded towards the large tire treads the farmer had left. She angled her steps until she reached the path. The dog followed her. I followed the dog. The width was narrow enough to be awkward. By the time we reached the road again, I was grateful, and I had answered my own question, "What is the origin of the phrase 'cold feet'?"