It’s cold outside (sort of), and time to tell that story I never tell because, well, it’s kind of embarrassing. I’ll tell it anyway, just this once.
Remember that playground scene in “Christmas Story,” the 1983 film about Ralphie and his need for a Red Ryder BB gun, where one kid “triple dog dares” another to touch a frozen flagpole with his tongue?
The kid does it, of course, pressing his fat red tongue to the pole, where it predictably sticks. Then the school bell rings, the crowd watching scatters faster than ice cream melts on a hot skillet, and the boy is left out there, still stuck to the pole until a teacher notices and sends the fire department in to make the rescue.
That happened to me. Only I was 54 years old, not 8.
My family had gathered at my stepmom’s ranch near Roscoe, an hour’s drive west of Abilene, to spend a few days hiking, reading and sitting in front of the chiminea drinking wine and telling stories. We love it up there in the winter, and spend our days rambling around kicking cactus and looking for fossils.
One night Mother Nature gifted us with a storm that coated the ranch and everything around it with a glittery white layer of snow and ice crystals. We headed out in the morning to explore. I brought along my camera to take pictures of my husband posing in front of giant bales of cotton and my sister hoisting frozen tumbleweeds over her head.
As we drove down a two-lane dirt road, past a series of metal poles, I got the brilliant idea to find out if that scene from “Christmas Story” was realistic.
We pulled the car off the road. I jumped out. I ran to the frozen metal pole.
The kicker here is nobody – not my husband, not my sister, not even my brother-in-law, who’s usually pretty nice to me – bothered to stop me. Or maybe they figured I knew better (I did not) and wasn’t really going to stick my tongue on the pole.
But I did. I poked it out and carefully licked that pole, like I was taste testing popsicles.
And it stuck.
I knew I was in trouble almost instantaneously, as I tried to reel my tongue back in. It was like a layer of Velcro held me to it, though. I tried to pull back gently, but the taste buds that connected me to that cold metal just stretched painfully. I pulled harder. The taste buds didn’t hold up so well.
In the end, nobody called in the fire department, because I panicked and yanked my tongue off the pole, ripping a piece of it off in the process. My family members watched, flabbergasted. To this day I’m not sure if they were more shocked that I’d stuck my tongue on a frozen metal pole, or that my tongue actually stuck there.
My tongue bled from the BB-sized hole I’d left in it. Back at the ranch house, it stung so badly I couldn’t eat or drink wine for at least 12 hours. (Now there’s a real tragedy.)
That scene from the movie? Completely accurate. Tongues really do stick to frozen metal poles. And, it also turns out, if you rip a piece of your tongue off, that piece remains on the pole, like a side of beef in the freezer. I went back the next day and found it, just so I could take the above photograph.