Over the last few weeks, we have had two winter thunderstorms in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. All my life I have heard that a thunderstorm in winter is a sure sign that snow will arrive within the week. Disappointingly, that hasn’t held true this time … so far.
Growing up in the South, snow was an event. Our local news station, WBTV, didn’t have all the sophisticated weather prediction tools and models that meteorologists have today, but it seems like weatherman Mike McKay got it right more often back in the 1970s than today’s forecasters do. As soon as Mike told us it was going to snow, everyone jumped in their cars and headed for the supermarket. They had to stock up on bread and milk …. like they were going to be stranded for a week. My mom and I sometimes stood in lines twenty people deep. While she participated in the bread and milk craze, Mom would also always grab what she needed to fix a big pot of her delicious vegetable soup (which included stew beef meat or hamburger). She would buy buttery-tasting Keebler Club crackers and pimiento cheese to serve with the soup. (Yum! I’m hungry just thinking about it.)
Snow was rare and precious to us. Maybe once a year, if we were lucky, we got enough snow to play in. If we saw on the news that it was snowing good in Atlanta, we pretty much knew we were in for a snow day the next day! Sleep was elusive those nights. It was almost like the anticipation surrounding Santa’s visits. Any time we heard the word snow, we kids lost our minds. I am sure that four letter word was a double-edged sword to our teachers at Long Creek Elementary School. When snow was anticipated, longed for, we were more interested in gazing out the windows than in their lessons on long division or grammar. We were restless, unsettled, excited. However, when it did actually snow, the teachers got to take a welcome break from us. I’m sure they prayed for it as hard or harder than we did.
Unlike today, unless it was actively snowing before our appointed time to be at the bus stop, school was never cancelled in anticipation that it might snow. It seems like the skies never broke open and let those flakes fall until all the buses arrived and the lunchroom ladies were well into preparing lunch for hundreds of students. Not much was accomplished in the classrooms because we were all constantly checking the windows and praying for our principal, Mr. Presson, to make that announcement over the intercom that we would be dismissed early. If it wasn’t snowing hard and that lunch was already prepared, we stayed to eat it, then were dismissed right after lunch.
During my elementary school years I stayed with a babysitter, neighborhood mom Barbara Freeman, before and after school hours and in the summers. I walked to and from school with her two sons, Mark and Miles, and several other kids that she watched for working parents. There were usually four or five of us making the trek together. Snow day walks home were awesome! We tilted our heads back and tried to catch snowflakes on our tongues. If it was snowing hard enough, we had a mile-long snowball fight all the way to the Freeman’s house.
Staying at The Freeman’s was a stroke of luck during snow days. Their driveway ended right at the apex of a great hill. To the left was a pretty steep decline where I once had an epic over-the-handle-bars bike wreck while racing my older brother, Curtis, that left my chin and knee split open so badly that my mom had to leave work and take me into town to have Huntersville family doctor, Dr. Seay, sew me up. As I held my face together with my palm, Dr. Seay started sewing up the inch-long gash on my kneecap. I dropped my hand from my chin and felt the gash open like a second mouth and asked him, “Don’t you want to do something about this first?” For an old country doctor, he did a job worthy of a plastic surgeon. The scar on my chin is hard for even me to locate. (The one on my knee is visible to this day.)
To the right, Pembroke hill’s descent was more forgiving … gently sloping down to an x-shaped intersection. Luckily, Pembroke Road was not heavily traveled by cars then, especially on a snow day. The ones of us who were feeling adventurous got a running start and dived chest first onto our Flexible Flyer sleds on the steep side of Pembroke Hill. It took about twenty seconds to reach the bottom and several minutes to trudge back up to the top, wait our turn, and go again. The younger or meeker kids stuck to the gentler slope that took them past the Stroupe’s house. It could still be treacherous if a car happened along from the intersection. Neighbors knew to slow down and watch out for flying kids.
Our neighborhood, Westminster Park, was full of children! There were usually several dozen of us congregating on that hill every time the snow was deep enough to sled. Not all of us were lucky enough to have traditional sleds, so we shared and experimented with sliding on everything from garbage can lids to heavy canvas ocean floats. I was ten before I got my Flexible Flyer for Christmas. I had been eyeing it at Huntersville Hardware for several years by then. No more waiting for my turn on someone else’s sled! I could not wait for it to snow!
I loved it when the snow stayed through the weekend or was so deep that Mom and Dad could not make it to work on a weekday. My brother and I would cajole them into their boots and coats and we would tramp through the neighborhood as a family. “Watch me!” we would scream before careening down Pembroke Hill. Nothing was better than building a backyard snowman with Mom, Dad, and Curtis … unless it was the snow cream Mom made for us or the fires Dad built in the fireplace that warmed us up when we came in from the snow. As soon as we were thawed out, we would beg to go back out.
Just like old timers still talk about the time in 1960 when it snowed three Wednesdays in a row, I remember the huge (for us) snow of Thursday, January 7th, 1988, the deepest of my life. There had only been four times times in my life that we had had snows of more than a couple of inches. (February 16, 1969 – 9 inches, December 03, 1971 – 7.5 inches, February 18, 1979 – 10 inches, March 24, 1983 – 10.3 inches.) Darryl and I were practically newlyweds, living in our first home together in Harrisburg, NC. The pictures from that day of Darryl holding a ruler showing the depth of the snow on our deck rail as just over 12-inches are precious reminders of our first time getting snowed in together. We didn’t mind at all being stranded at home for that four day weekend.
Only once since 1988 have we had an epic snow. By then, we were living in our current house when, on February 26, 2004 we had 11.6 inches of snow. That was also on a Thursday. We loved the unexpected vacation from our printing business. We put on our boots and coats and took a walk down to the neighborhood pond, which looked like a winter wonderland, surrounded by ice- and snow-covered trees. I can still conjure up the sound of our boots crunching in the loose powder snow and see the deer tracks through our backyard that we discovered first thing that morning when we awoke to that Currier and Ives view out our windows. I snapped my favorite picture of our home that day, complete with a snow-covered mailbox and an untouched snow-blanketed front lawn.
Snow days today aren’t much different for the fifty-seven year old me than they were for the seven year old me. I still anticipate them like Christmas. When snow starts moving through Atlanta, I get so excited that I can’t sleep. I’ll get up two or three times during the night and peer out at the back deck, hoping for the white stuff. It has been five years since our last halfway decent snow (4 inches on January 17, 2018). The dustings we have gotten since then have mostly come in the wee hours of the morning when I was sleeping. I have missed seeing the flakes fall, stick, and blanket the ground.
As I wrote this on this rainy Wednesday morning, I just heard the rumble of thunder! No lie! Maybe all hope is not lost. I’ll be keeping my eye on Atlanta for the next few days and wishing I could have one more carefree snow day with Mama and Daddy.