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The lump in the back of my throat that night wasn't for my inept Tar Heels, who had gotten blown away by Rutgers a couple days earlier, or the Washington Redskins, which had gotten blown away by Dallas in a forgettable end to a forgettable season that represented an absolutely miserable experience for fans of these old teams this fall. Well, OK, beating Duke was nice, but East Carolina and N.C. State plumb wore us out and dumped us in the waste bin. Oh, me.

Nope, it was not a lump of sorrow. It was a lump of aggravated, annoyed, irritated, raw as hot gravelly gullet, and I knew what it meant. It was time for my biennial bout with the evils of the season — what few medical specialists call the coldus hideosis horribilis, Latin for "You ain't gonna be fit to live with for some time, Bubba." That's a very rough translation, but it is what it is fixing to be: just godawful.

Back in my smoking days I used to get head colds with hacking coughs, explosive sneezes and an ample flow of nasty nasal emissions a couple times a year. When I finally quit after a couple of decades of abusing cigarettes, pipe tobacco, starlight mints and chewing gum, the rate of what we called Chapel Hill Chest Rattlers diminished considerably.  Sometimes I'd go three years without one, but more usually every other year.

This one is a beast. Probably qualifies as a Belcher Mountain Wheezer. I'm surrounded by patent medicines, boxes of Kleenex (expect the stock to shoot up rapidly next week; I'm buying it by the freight car load), packs of exotic teas, vials of supplements in caplets and capsules and a little blue bottle with an eyedropper for dispensing some sort of potion said to ease pain, restore health and make childbirth a pleasure, a pitcher of Patrick County well water and, somewhere around here, a dwindling bottle of Knob Creek. It rained yesterday, then froze, then snowed and the thermometer is hanging around 29 while the wedge fog has us boxed in. Like the Bob Dylan song, You ain't goin' nowhere.

I have a stack of books — a Bernard Cornwell, a Pat Conroy, a Michael Connely and a Burke Davis — to keep me company, a stack of split oak on the deck that feeds the old wood stove and keeps it ticking, and a stack of blues CDs that I haven't listened to in years. They ought to be good for the soul in this winter of physical misery.

Don't think for a moment this is all bad. I've cleaned out five years of deleted e-mails, restored a Christmas card list lost in in a 2011 retirement move and decluttered a hard drive that had way too many widgets and tuits and thingamajigs that have been slowing the contraption down for a couple years. Found a couple of short story starts that still might lead somewhere, an outline for a book about growing up in the South and a first-whack at a song about the Blue Ridge. There's work to do here, son, and the sooner you get better, the sooner you can get going again! Now where's that Knob Creek....

Jack Betts

Jack Betts is retired associate editor of The Charlotte Observer.

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