Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Snow Day

Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood. – Andy Goldsworthy

It used to be that I loved a snow day.  When we were kids it was something we looked forward to with great promise.  Living in NW Indiana, and in the snow belt, we could count on the lake effect snow from Lake Michigan to drop a foot of snow routinely on short notice.  I guess we didn’t have the weather prognostication we do now.  No, the weather systems were sort of drawn on crude maps of the US.  The weather guys used chalk to draw on said maps to make their points.  We didn’t name our winter storms either.  It just snowed when it snowed.  Very little panic or fuss.

The folks up there knew how to take care of snow too.  Where I grew up (Gary/Merrillville) there were huge snowplows, salt and cinder trucks, people had chains and snow tires.  For a while my dad had studded snow tires for winter travel. 

And every household had snow shovels.  If you had kids (we had 7) you had more than one snow shovel.  After we shoveled out our own driveway, we’d go to the neighbors (the ones without kids) and ask if they wanted their driveways and sidewalks shoveled out.  We’d never set a price.  We just relied on the generosity of the shovelees.  We’d be satisfied with a buck and a quarter, but sometimes we got as much as five bucks. 

One year, it snowed bigtime right after Christmas.  Two, three feet.  All at once.  And lots of wind.  The plows made their ways down the secondary streets and within an hour, the snow was right back where it started.  And we played.  I think we had an additional two weeks off of school.  That meant a month, right out of the middle of the school year.  And we only had 170 student days back then.  Given the other snow days off that year, we probably only attended for about 150 days.  Don’t worry though; we went to a Catholic school.  We made up for it with some pretty severe time-on-task. 

I remember my buddy Rick, my next-door-neighbor.  His bedroom was just across from our kitchen.  The lots were really close together in that suburban neighborhood.  Our houses were maybe 20 feet apart.  The year of the big snow, there was a snowdrift between our houses that went all the way to the roofline.  He and I walked right up our neighbor’s drift and bashed in an icicle that was hanging down from their eaves.  I pounded it until it came cracking off the edge of their roof – right through their window.  What did we do as good Catholic boys?  Ran like crazy!  They saw us though.  The jig was soon up.

In high school, we moved to a small lake community.  More snow than ever.  When we got off the bus we would drop our backpacks and grab on to the rear bumper where the driver couldn’t see us.  We’d hang on while the bus drove around the neighborhood, feet sliding on the ice and snow, inhaling the foul fumes of school-bus-exhaust.  Skitching we called it.  Super dangerous and super dumb.  But lots of fun.

While we never had a week off in a row, we had plenty of snow days.  There were big sand dunes in that area, so the sledding was supreme.  We would trudge to the tops of those huge blown out piles of sand and ride the little plastic boat type sleds down the steep sides of those dunes.  We routinely fell out on the way down; as the drops were so steep we were immediately out of control.  It didn’t matter.  We laughed until our faces hurt.  We’d even build these little ramps or jumps, guaranteeing lots of airtime and lots of dangerous spills. 

Those were the days.

When Heidi and I moved to South Carolina, snow was a completely different matter.  Even the threat of snow meant school was cancelled.  When our boys were little snow days were so much fun.  We’d hike around the neighborhood and local woods with our dog, Sasha, and build snowmen in the meadow if there was enough snow.  Once, after an ice storm, the electricity went out for a couple of days.  We felt as though we were roughing it sleeping next to the banked fireplace, cooking out on the snow-covered grill, drinking our coffee camping style. 

Right now we are having our fourth snow day of the year.  My perspective has changed some.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the spontaneous day off, but I feel like my students and I are losing momentum.  We may not even get back to school until next week.  And Monday and Tuesday are scheduled holidays.  We are missing our student led conferences and will have to get that back on track. 

I’ve been chopping a lot of wood in case we lose power – Heidi all but guarantees we will.  This is a named storm after all.  We can see it on slow motion satellite and radar images with colored bands indicating, ice, snow, wintry mix.  Pax is “her” name.  My back is sore from chopping.  I shoveled the driveway – it was immediately recovered with icy sleet.  Forget it.  My neck is sore from shoveling.  When we were out with the dog, she ran off and I fell in some rocks while chasing her.  I cracked my hand pretty painfully.  No way I can play guitar.  I hope it’s just a sprain.   (Hmmm  What IS my favorite whine?)

Nope, snow days aren’t exactly what they used to be.  But, it could be so much worse.  I’m stuck here in this beautiful icywinterworld with Heidi.   For now we have power so making coffee and tea is easy.  Plenty of wood and the fire is set in the fireplace.  Batteries in the flashlights.  Lots of warm clothes.  Lots of food in the cabinets.  Books on the shelves, schoolwork in my backpack.  Time on my hands. 

Some day we’ll probably have grandchildren.  Hopefully we’ll get those grandkids for some snow days.  We’ll build the tiny snowmen that you can build around here.  We’ll drag them around in Tupperware lids and maybe they’ll have a puppy of their own to make their snow days more memorable.  We’ll show them how to make snow angels and how to have snowball fights.  We’ll probably put a snowball in the freezer so we can remember the snow day in the middle of summer. 

One of the very best reasons for having children is to be reminded of the incomparable joys of a snow day. – Susan Orlean

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