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Five Directions Press Authors Dish: Snow

This month’s dish topic was a no-brainer. On the day we picked to decide on it, the white stuff was falling across much of the country.

Courtney J. Hall: At the risk of sounding like the grandpa who always seemed to be walking to school barefoot, uphill both ways, today’s kids will never know the anxiety of waking up to snow outside the window and huddling around a battery-powered radio waiting for the local AM news station to tell you whether or not you’d be going to school that day.

In the Philadelphia suburb in which I grew up, the routine was always the same. My mother would wake my sister and me up at the normal time, just in case, and make breakfast—a frozen Lender’s bagel, maybe a Pop Tart (it was the 80s, after all)—and we’d eat slowly, waiting for KYW1060’s morning anchor to make his way through the list of what felt like hundreds of numbers, each one representing a different local school district, until he said ours. 453.

If he said ours, that is.

There was nothing quite like the disappointment of hearing 450. 451. 452. 454. But it was a disappointment we felt over and over again. You see, we happened to attend a school district which, despite at least two record-breaking blizzards during my school years, probably called less than half a dozen snow days. While other kids were hearing their numbers, putting on their snowsuits and running outside to play, we were brushing our teeth, getting dressed, and slipping down the sidewalk to the car. My mother would drive us to school, white-knuckling the steering wheel the whole way. At the end of the day, maybe enough of the snow would have melted so the ride home wasn’t so terrifying. Or maybe the snow would have continued to fall all day, so the ride home would be even more terrifying.

It took two events to convince the powers that be that maybe they should start putting more emphasis on safety than on losing a day of learning. One was a school bus full of kids sliding off the road. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the second did involve an injury. A high school math teacher, who lived within walking distance of the school, slipped on icy steps going into the school building and knocked himself out. It was only a mild concussion, but between that and the district’s bus drivers demanding change, those in charge finally seemed convinced that they might be in the wrong.

Unfortunately, this happened toward the end of my school years, so I’m sad to say that unlike my friends here, I don’t have much in the way of fun snow stories to share. I spent most snowy days staring out the classroom window wishing I was home reading on my bed. Not being an outdoor girl, it wasn’t the idea of snowball fights that appealed to me, but of being at home with the Baby-Sitters Club or the Sweet Valley twins. But kids today are luckier. They’ve never had to listen obsessively for their school’s number, as parents are notified via text message of a snow day the moment the five-day forecast mentions the word “flurry.” They go to bed knowing they can sleep in the next morning. But there’s a certain nostalgia in the memory of waiting to be disappointed, and among the friends I’ve held onto since my school years, most of whom now have kids of their own, it’s a running joke we can laugh about even twenty years later.

C. P. Lesley: I’ve lived in the United States since I was eleven years old, and—except for a short stint in California—I’ve spent all of that time in places that have snow: the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic states, New England, Russia. So it seems funny that the “snow” experience that sticks with me took place in southern England, a place that averages out at 45 degrees Fahrenheit from November through March. But so it is.

When I was in elementary school, the idea of snow at Christmas was something seen on holiday cards and televised performances of A Christmas Carol—nothing to do with real life. But a few months before my tenth birthday, southern England had a serious (i.e., measurable) snowfall. We kids were ecstatic. Despite a lack of snowsuits, or even proper winter boots, we piled out into the yard determined to build our first-ever snowman. We all worked together, and for whatever reason, we selected my family’s front yard as the location of the neighborhood snow person. With great glee, we rolled a humongous snowball the height of a five-year-old child.

Then we were called into dinner. We left the snowball in the pathway between the garage and the front door, intending to come back the next morning to add the head, arms, eyes, and all the other essential elements of a good snow person. Alas, the next morning the snow in the yard had mostly disappeared, but the snowball, being so huge, remained intact. Not only intact, but frozen solid and immovable, blocking the path from the front door to the garage. And there it stayed, because, as luck would have it, that turned out to be the coldest winter recorded in the UK in the last hundred years.

My parents took it well, on the whole. We endured a few bitter comments—all right, more than a few—from my mother about guests having to enter by the back door, as well as a lot of neighborhood humor about the Snow Person That Wasn’t. Eventually, the spring sun arrived and took care of the problem for us. The next year we moved to Chicago, where we had a record 63 inches of snow, yet the schools never closed or even opened late. I think Mum rather missed the solitary if massive path-blocking snowball at that point. But despite the many drifts and warnings and outright blizzards I’ve known since then, I will always remember the Snowball from Hell.

Joan Schweighardt: The house I grew up in was a block in from the highway. While the front of the house looked out on a residential neighborhood, the back looked at a supermarket parking lot, and beyond it, the supermarket itself. When the lot filled up, shoppers parked in front of our house or alongside it. Sometimes they left their carts behind. My grandmother, who lived with us and hated the house, went from window to window—one hand holding her cigarette, the other cupped beneath to catch errant ashes—muttering, “Goddamn fishbowl, this place.”

Looking back, I have to agree with her. But as a little kid I liked having the lot just there, and I was not above raising a blind slat to spy on humanity when I ran out of other things to do. Except for Sundays, when the supermarket was closed, there was always something to contemplate: husbands waiting impatiently in cars while their wives shopped (“real men” tried to distance themselves as much as possible from anything having to do with food prep in those days); angry moms dragging along crying kids; groups of teens taking the shortcut to the movie theater . . . In the evenings, the supermarket employees, who parked their cars just outside my bedroom, returned. Some of them were young men who seemed “cute” to me when I got to be ten or so. One had a girlfriend who also worked at the supermarket. When all the other cars pulled away, she got out of her car and into his and they “made out.” Deliveries happened after midnight. The noisy trucks woke me up. The various drivers laughed and cursed when they met up. In the summer, when the windows were open, I learned new “bad” words that way.

But the best thing about living adjacent to a parking lot happened in winter. Every time it snowed (and it snowed frequently in northern New Jersey back then), monster plows pushed the snow up to the scraggly shrubs that marked the end of the lot and the beginning of our narrow strip of backyard. First the mountains were five feet high, then ten, then fifteen … My friends and I leveled the tops, so we could march on them, single file. Adventurers we were, exploring the Arctic. Or we borrowed our parents’ garden tools and dug out individual rooms where we could live side by side, neighbors in a huge white apartment complex. Or we made peepholes near the peeks with broom handles, so we could see into the lot without being seen ourselves. When there was snow, my house was the one where everyone wanted to play. No one wanted the snow to melt, least of all my grandmother.

Images: Clipart no. 000572-0001-005323; Courtney J. Hall; Reinhard Thrainer from Pixabay.

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