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Kittredge: Trading Last

Winter in the North Country requires that we live a bit on heightened alert. We shrink from those around us who are sneezing and coughing; judiciously count the logs in the woodshed, drive cautiously and pad about on slippery walks ever watchful for a patch of ice.

It’s a time when cabin fever also threatens many of us in the north. When the temperature remains as frigid as it has for the last few weeks, we hunker down, draw the blanket around us and dread going out. I usually blame it on my dog, we can’t go out for a ski when it’s 10 below zero because Tess’ paws will hurt. Really? Tess’ paws? What about mine? And whatever excuse we come up with, the result will be the same – the more we stay inside, the more entrenched the fever will become.

But if getting outside to play, if you’re able, is a great antidote to cabin fever, so is switching up your routine and doing something entirely different. In our family we have a tradition that was handed down by my grandmother, who was born in 1879. We exchange compliments in a little game that also makes everyone feel good. Here’s how it works: when I’ve heard someone say something nice about you, I say to you, “I’ve got a TL for you.”

“TL” is short for “Trade-Last,” since I can’t tell you what I’ve heard about you - until you’re ready to tell me something nice you’ve heard about me. Thus, the one who starts the round will also end it – or “trade last.”

First though, you brighten, smile, and stand up just a little bit straighter – wondering who might have paid you a compliment. Then it’s your turn to remember something nice that someone has said about me. What generally ensues is a scratching of the head, an internal debate as to whether to lie and fabricate a remark, or offer a resigned “I’ll owe you.”

Not everyone accepts “I owe yous.” Some people hold out for the real thing and send you off to prod family and friends. It’s amazing how many nice things are said about others that we never pass along. But you’d be surprised how often you can actually recall a flattering remark about someone else.

Assuming you can recall a compliment, you say “Okay, I’ve got one” and share what you’ve heard. Then I can “trade last” and tell you the compliment I’ve heard – and we both come away with lifted spirits.