Snow Days

The sweaty brows, the high pitched voices, the pacing back and forth, the pointing at colorful, dynamic, diagrams, maps and radars. Is this the scene of a war room? A police drama? A lunatic asylum?

This, my friends, is The Modern Weather Forecaster in a full lather, sporting The Weather Woody. He is so excited to be noticed, valued, appreciated. No longer just a sidekick, an extra cast member kicking around mindless banter, he is center stage, deadly serious and in command.  

This winter was looking like The Winter that Wasn’t, until … finally … 

“Folks, it’s crazy, I know. But it looks like we’re getting snow. In January. In Cleveland. Can you believe it? And it’s cold. In January. Stay tuned right here for more details.”

Goodness gracious.

I hate to sound officially like an Old Person, with the  “back in my days,” but … back in my day, heavy snow and cold weather was expected in winter. In January. In Cleveland. Hell, it was expected from November all the way until June. I recall plenty of Easters spent with a bulky winter coat donned over my frilly Easter dress, and white wicker hat, my open toed white sandals slipping around in the slush . 

I do love a good snow storm… as long as I’m not driving on the highway in one (not many things more nerve-racking than a white out). Lying in bed the other night, I listened for the dull scraping noise of the snow plows going down the street, finally hearing it in the wee hours of early morning. It’s always barely perceptible, muffled by the thick snowy air. Hearing it reminded me of being a kid, staying up late to watch the news for weather updates (before they were available 24/7), praying for my school to be announced as closed. “Not yet, honey. Better get to bed,” my mom would say as I groaned my way up the stairs.

If a Snow Day was called for overnight, there would be an uncharacteristic quiet in the house the next morning. My older brothers would be roused out of bed to hit the driveway and start hauling the white stuff out of the way. It wasn’t too much of a burden though, because there were dozens of other kids doing the same and soon thereafter, forts and snowballs were being made, strategies of attack planned, snowballs to my face by at least one of my brothers. We would finally come in for warmth, cheeks chapped, mittens soggy, bread bags sticking out of our snow boots (that made them easier to slide on, especially with hand-me-down boots that were a little too small). After sledding and building forts and shoveling, it was time to sit down and catch up on the basics: Dinah Shore, Merv Griffin, Phil Donahue (“You know, he’s from Lakewood, went to St. Ed’s), and The Price is Right with Monty Hall.

In later years, Snow Days became more social affairs. I graduated from the quiet, wimpy swale in our back yard to the titillating teen scene in my friend, Mary Beth’s back yard. The pitch of the sledding hill had to be near 90 degrees, full of a slalom course of trees, and a little creek at the bottom of the hill that completely freaked me out (“I could wipe out in that creek and drown!”). We spent hours careening down that terrifying hill; I can’t believe none of us died back there.

There was never a snow like the infamous Blizzard of 1978, which happened 41 years ago this week. I was 14 years old. It started as I was walking home from high school. Per usual, I was wearing my uniform skirt with bare legs because no one ever wore tights or, God help me, pants in high school. Half-way through the one mile walk home, I had to take refuge in a local Methodist church to use their phone to call home. “I cannot take one more step. I can’t feel my legs. I can’t even see to walk. Can someone come get me?” I pleaded. There was eye rolling and heavy sighing on the other end, as my next older brother got in the car to come retrieve me. 

Back at home, we all hunkered down and watched the storm rage. And rage it did. The snow just. Kept. Coming. And the temperatures kept dropping. And dropping. Wind chills were something like 50 below zero or more. One of my older brothers stood looking out the backyard window up at an enormous elm tree that was being whipped to and fro by the 100 mile an hour winds. “That tree is going to come down, ma,” he said as he turned away from the window. No sooner had he entered the kitchen than that tree thundered down, schlumping onto the backyard patio and sending an enormous limb through the ceiling where he had been standing. The patio furniture was instantly dwarfed by the enormity of that tree, making the chairs and table look like dollhouse furniture in comparison. I was fascinated by the instant transformation in perspective.

The hurricane force winds found the hole in the ceiling and sent arctic blasts through the house. We all retreated to the far end of the house as someone — probably that same brother — stapled up plastic sheathing to try to keep the winds out of the house.

Now THAT was a snowstorm, my friends. The snow piles and drifts that Blizzard of 1978 left were epic. Veritable mountain ranges lined the parking lots, driveways and streets all over town and stayed there until summer, I think.

On of my favorite Snow Day stories is when my naughty nephews were little, they spent their Snow Day outside in the snow, as would be expected. But they chose to sneak over to their next door neighbor’s house, who was a constant, complaining pain with no sense of humor. Those killjoy neighbors were out of town and the boys were inspired to build an anatomically correct snow man and snow woman. Of course, the snow balls were put in appropriate locations, as were the clumps of grass pulled up from under the snow. The grassy patches had an uncanny likeness to, um … hair, placed onto the snow body. In strategic places. My sister, their mom, could not stop laughing long enough to reprimand them. I just love that image of those X-Rated snow people, staring glassy eyed out at the quiet suburban street, naked as jay birds, like snowy pervs.

Our first snow storm out at the farm happened on the the odd weekend that my husband and I were there alone, with no kids, no guests. Just the two of us, the dog, the fireplace, and some music. My sister had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease earlier that week, which was, unbelievably, just 6 years ago, and I was in mourning. About a year earlier, we had buried my mom, who had suffered from Alzheimer’s for over ten years. That same year that Mom died, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. As the snow fell hard outside and piled up, I stretched out in front of the raging fireplace, doing yoga, praying, weeping, pleading for a cure, for some answers, for a miracle. “I hate this disease,” I yelled at God, at the snowdrifts, the fireplace, at no one. 

The next day, the snow sparkled in the winter sun. I was emotionally exhausted from the previous day’s tears and worry. Walking out in the crisp, cold air, trudging through the snow, I thought about those snow days of my youth, of my silly nephews, of my suffering loved ones. “What will we do? What can I do? What will happen?” I ruminated as I trudged on, still weeping. And there it was in front of me … or rather behind me. My deep footsteps in the newly fallen snow. One in front of the other.

“One. Step. At. A. Time.”