Sunday, January 9, 2011

Snow Days

This is a reprint of a blog I did a few years ago--quite apropro for today in the MidSouth. Enjoy.

I love snow-days--—a fact which seems paradoxical knowing how rigid and controlling I am. Yet, when Ron Childers breaks into the regular scheduled programming with a weather announcement predicting ice or snow, my heart goes pitter-patter.
Snow days are a phenomenon peculiar to the south. Surprisingly, above the Mason Dixon line, where we had many snowy days, we had very few snow-days. Even during the blizzard of ‘79 which dumped several feet of snow on the Midwest, life went on as usual. But in the mid-south, just the threat of icy precipitation creates bedlam. Highway crews are put on alert; grocery stores are emptied of bread, milk, and marshmallows; and children are glued to the TV hopefully waiting for news of school closings. Former Boy Scouts crowd the aisles of Home Depot in search of batteries and generators. Lines form outside Blockbuster. An approaching snow fall engenders more excitement than the arrival of Santa Claus.
When we moved to Memphis, we brought with us the Yankee attitude toward snow and ice. Our cars were filled with antifreeze; our sleds and snow shovels were within easy reach; and everyone in the family was outfitted with snow gear and boots. We didn’t know that southerners prepared in a different way.
On a December day, before a flake had fluttered to the ground, my sixth-grader called from school.
“Mom, can you come and get me?” she said.
“Are you sick?” I asked.
“No, but everyone is gone.”
“Gone where?” (I’m thinking rapture.)
“Gone home. Their moms picked them up because of the snow.”
Before long I was properly indoctrinated in Southern ways. I knew that y’all was part of the southern dialect but I was unprepared for its versatility. When I picked my five-year old up at school I heard her presumably well-educated teacher say, “Is this y’all’s coat?” Wow! I didn’t know the word had a possessive form. Now I know that y’all can be singular, plural, nominative, subjective, possessive, and superlative—as in “all y’yall.” I learned to eat grits, cornbread, and slaw on barbecue. And I assimilated a new attitude about weather forecasts.
After the first actual snowfall, I understood the southerners’ over-reaction to snow. They lacked the benefit of training and experience. No one could get out of their drives after a snowfall, because no one shoveled snow. While our neighbors sat in their warm houses enjoying the Currier and Ives scene, my husband cleared our driveway. The next morning when the packed snow had turned to ice, he drove happily off to work while the neighbors were trapped inside—victims of inadequate weather education.
Of course, we didn’t know that getting out of the driveway was the easy part. Driving was treacherous because road crews weren’t prepared to clear side roads. The conditions were exacerbated by the ineptitude of the drivers who had never learned to navigate snow-packed roads. Those, like us, who ventured out in direct violation of the warnings, took their lives in their hands.
Unaware of the danger, I dared to jump in my car, toddler in the back (car-seat non-existent), and headed out into the melee. As I crept through the intersection at Poplar and Germantown road, I opened my window to get a better view. Mistake. Just as I turned the corner, a city worker threw a shovel full of cinders into my open window interrupting my rousing rendition of “Silver Bells.” I was spitting and sputtering, momentarily blinded, and left picking cinders out of cranial orifices for weeks.
The excitement of the kids was contagious and I celebrated with them when the announcement of school closings included Shelby County. They went to bed with their pajamas inside out—a superstition guaranteed to work, in case their prayers weren’t enough to counteract their dad’s. For some reason, he never got into the snow-day spirit-- much to our consternation. Maybe he was jealous since he was the only one who couldn’t turn off the alarm and crawl back into the warm bed. Wall Street didn’t shut down because of a little snow in cotton country. Jim took the closings as a personal affront, an indication that America was moving toward annihilation as the citizens became slackers and sissies.
We were among the few families that owned a sled and a toboggan. The neighborhood kids sought out the nearest hill (or slight rise in the ground) and tramped up and down repeatedly until they were sliding on dirt. After a few hours they came in smelling of wet wool mufflers and mittens. I stood ready to fortify them with hot chocolate and warm cookies before they headed out again to take advantage of the short-lived winter playground.
The children are long-gone now but I still thrill to the list of closings and cancellations on the bottom of the TV. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because a snow-day brings the kind of imposed cessation of obligation that otherwise comes only with hospitalization—my own. Everything comes to a halt—a cease-fire in the harried battle of life where the commander-in-chief has given us a twenty-four hour reprieve. Shall we watch an old movie, read a good book or my favorite, bake some gooey verboten comfort food?
Pull out the stops. On a snow-day anything goes.