Cribben McCue Froze to Death
The cranky town gossip shares too much information on how to freeze to death.
Cribben McCue froze to death. He lived in this house in Marshallville his whole life and cared for his aging and ailing mother, Ruthie. It was late fall in the early Fifties when he fell through the thin ice on the river. Cribs, as everybody called him, managed to get to shore. Dripping wet, the temperature well below zero with a stiff wind, he started for home but soon got discombobulated. I guess he staggered around for awhile but the cold overwhelmed him.
When they found Cribs, he was naked as the day he was born. Rumours went around that he’d been beaten, robbed and stripped. But he died alone, in the cold, his body wedged up between two big old cottonwoods trees. (SCORNFULLY) People don’t know.
Freezing to death is one of the worst ways to die. Slowly losing your heat, your essential fire gradually dimming then gone. It isn’t long before the cold starts to interfere with your ability to think rationally, to understand what is happening to you. Your confusion mounts; your movement is impeded by the cold, the awful, unforgiving cold. You shiver violently, uncontrollably. You stumble around. Your hands are useless.
(MORE SCORN) People don’t know. The constant cold induces some odd behaviour like wanting to burrow under something, behind something, between something like big trees. It’s similar to hibernation. When the metabolism slows down we begin to burrow, to dig in, like varmints.
Somewhere late in the freezing to death process, a strange thing occurs. You suddenly feel hot, unbearably hot. Unable to reason why this might be happening, you feel confined, your clothing imprisons you in the heat so you tear off your clothes, compulsively stripping every shred off your body to cool down.
Naked, you can only feel the dimly heated core of your body as your vitals collapse under duress, your arms and legs turn blue and numb, your skin turns brittle, your eyes freeze shut, your lips and tongue harden, your blood slows as it becomes ice in your veins, your organs succumb to the cold and there is a constant high pitched buzzing in your ears because your eardrums have frozen and broken apart. When the buzzing stops, so does everything else.
You are extinguished; your body becomes stiff, (PAUSE) solid, (PAUSE) like one stuff, (PAUSE) all ice and frozen bone. (PAUSE)
That’s how Cribben McCue died. (SCORN) People don’t know.
A bitter and miserable old woman tells this tale of woe about a family in Marshallville. Immediately we learn Cribs lived his whole life in the house we are seeing where he cared for his sick mother. What a nice boy, except to our story teller. She is sour about everything including her story. She doesn’t try to hide her scorn for others, ever, sees no reason to. She’s old; she doesn’t care.
Matter-of-factly but with great scorn, she recounts the dreadful experience of freezing to death referring to the death of Cribben McCue. As the horror of each freezing stage is explained, sourpuss lady takes a keener pleasure in talking about it, highly self-satisfied at her knowing what “People don’t know.”
Everything she says is true; this is what happens when we freeze to death. It delights her; she wallows in the horror, enjoying herself too much.
I didn’t have a story until I read the details of what actually happens when we freeze to death. The final details are largely embellishment but everything leading up to that, including the stripping and burrowing, is factual.
Carol Anne Miller did four takes of this story, each radically different. I settled on the grating crazy lady voice as there were at least two women in Shoal Lake with similar vocal tones who were terrible gossips and loved to embellish everything they heard. More than any other voice in The Lonesomes, this one gets an immediate reaction and thus works as intended. Thanks Carol.
This house is in Westbourne, Manitoba along Highway #16. The weather-worn colour of the house along with its long abandoned, paintless condition appealed to me.
I shot it twice, once for the long view and once for the details. In post, Kevin Uddenberg and I worked this into a vague Guy Maddin homage during post production with the colour changes and the negative (black) spaces.