Monday, January 10, 2011

Day 10 -- Thirty Days of Gratitude in the Home

If I never had to drive in it, I'd be totally grateful for snow. There was a time when I had never seen snow (at least that I remembered), and I wanted to see it so badly. You see, my parents, who were both natives of Tennessee, moved to Jacksonville, Florida when they married. At that time, it had never snowed in Jacksonville, where I was born two years later. My only chance to see snow was on trips up "north", but most of those took place in the summer.

For my friends and I, snow was more elusive than Santa Claus. My third grade class used a geography text book which described children who lived in the tropics. This description contained the sentence, "Imagine what it must be like for boys and girls to live in a place where there is no snow." At this, we all howled with laughter. A place with no snow! We couldn't imagine living in a place with snow.

Some people who visited Jacksonville said that it had only one season. This, we knew, was not true. There was a white shoe season and a season when you could not wear white shoes. White shoe season was from Easter to Labor Day. There was also a season for swimming and a season when you did not go into the ocean, and our mothers were very particular about making sure that we did not brave the waves until it was warm enough. Only tourists from Canada, Michigan, Illinois, and other foreign places swam in the dead of winter, when the temperature might be a brisk 60 or 70 degrees F and the water was c-h-i-l-l-y enough to make you catch cold.

Even then, freezing temperatures were not unknown in Florida, and we would often hear of measures that the orange growers down state were taking to protect their crops. Once in a while, the needles on the pine trees in our yard would actually have a thin coat of ice over them. That was so exciting!

One year not long after we moved away, some snow flakes fell in the pan handle, though the flakes didn't stick. Jacksonville parents loaded up their kids and drove over, hoping to get them there in time to see snow falling.

While I was a child in Jacksonville, I would look at pictures of snow and imagine that it must be like balls of cotton dropping from the sky. Yes, I decided, it must feel wondrously soft and fluffy to the hands. Oh, intellectually, I knew that snow was, of course, cold, just as the droplets of frozen water on the pine needles were cold. (What a deliciously hard winter it was when the pine needles froze!) But, could anything that looked that beautiful in pictures be anything other than soothing to the touch? Somehow, the reality of cold didn't connect with my imaginary snow.

When I was ten, we planned a trip to Denver, but this was side-lined when we moved to Atlanta instead. So, after we had settled in, we took our first of many fall and winter trips to the mountains of Georgia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. I would eventually see my fill of snow among those peaks, but on my first excursion, we found only a little patch of old snow in a tiny nook near an overlook. My parents pulled over, and I ran out and put my hands in it. Hmm. Curiously, the snow was not soft. It wasn't fluffy. And, it was truly cold -- stingingly so.

Then, came a freeze and my first exuberant leap out onto an icy patch in the street, followed by the clutziest fall imaginable in front of my new Georgia friends. That winter, the deciduous trees looked bare and not even the roses bloomed at Christmas time! It all seemed so dreary. And, despite the relentless cold (meaning that we had an occasional freeze in a three month span), there was no snow -- no snow at all! I thought that was the hardest, longest winter ever, and I longed for the lush landscape of northern Florida.

Little did I know that Georgia, with its tall, evergreen pines, its short, mild winters, and its early, glorious springs, was hardly the home of Nanook of the North. In fact, many people would think it's a fine place to spend the colder part of the year! Fortunately, my parents put me on a plane back to Jacksonville to spend Easter with my best friend, and the sight of all that beautiful green cured me of my first winter's home sickness.

After that, I enjoyed living in a place with four distinct seasons (or rather a long summer, a short fall, a short spring, and a tolerably short winter), rather than in the semi-tropics. In Atlanta, I saw my first snow flurries, which fascinated me to no end. Then, I saw my first snow.

In Atlanta, we'd usually get an inch or two of snow every year or every other year or so, and once in a great while, we'd have a big snow. Mostly, we'd have ice storms, and the pine trees would freeze and pop like gunfire, and huge branches would drop onto power lines, and take out transformers, and we'd lose electricity and get out of school. Getting out of school was fun. What was even more fun was going up into the mountains to see deeper snowfalls. The best fun of all was when my friends and I took makeshift sleds up hills and slid down them. (Not many Southern kids of my age and set had real sleds. We had every other piece of sports equipment known to man. Many had skis and traveled in order to catch snowy slopes. Even so, very few of us had sleds.) My friends who had moved down to Atlanta from up north were sometimes take it or leave it about snow, but to those of us who had always lived in Atlanta or points further South the rarity of snow meant that it never lost its excitement. Even when we were in college, we squealed like little kids at the sight of the first wet flake.

I have since married, had children, and have lived all over the South. Wherever I have lived, a good snowfall has shut down the town. To me, a snow day represents family time with no outside expectations. School? Canceled. Doctor's appointment? Canceled. Meeting you didn't really want to go to on that day? Postponed. Snow days mean hot chocolate and pancakes. Snuggling with babies. Playing outside with older kids. Taking walks with your husband. Actually being at home and having your neighbors at home, too, rather than waving at each other as your minivans wheel by each other. Taking your time to clean house or sew or do whatever without feeling any pressure to do anything else. Taking the time to pray. Throughout my married life, I always viewed a snow day as a gift of rest given to us by God.

Snow has it's treacherous side, too. I learned that at age ten, when my mother and I were in a wreck on icy Atlanta roads. (Well, the villain, as it so often is in the South, was really ice, not snow. But, so often, our winter weather is a mixture of ice and snow.) I've never learned how to drive in snow and ice, and, judging by how many of my fellow Nashvillians drive, I'm not sure that many of my compadres have as well. Add that to the fact that Southern towns just don't have as much snow equipment as northern cities do, not to mention that we still have more rural areas near our more populated areas, and you've got a recipe for some nasty driving conditions.

I once rode across the city in a snow storm with a friend from northern New York. I suggested that we turn back. She told me that she had learned to drive in such conditions. She said that it was nothing to navigate her little car through the wintry precipitation. I yielded to her judgment. A little while later, we saw another friend of ours sliding back down a bridge. She could not get her car across the bridge. We saw that she was being helped, and we drove on. True to her word, my friend got us safely to our destination, which was both an answer to my constant prayers and a testimony to her driving skills. I was amazed at how well she handled her car on the roads. I was also happy when she delivered me safely home again.

As everyone knows, we are in a weather cycle in which the South (and much of the U.S.) has experienced more snowfall than usual in the past few years. This year, we started with snow early, and it looks like we're going to keep having more snowfalls. I already mentioned on this blog that this year marked my first bona fide white Christmas. A lot of places in the South that are now getting repeated snowfalls formerly had once snowfall in a year, if that. Life can come to a standstill once or twice a year, and we'll be none the worse for it. However, life can't stop every other week throughout a winter. If we continue in the weather pattern that we're in now, we may have to learn new ways of coping with winter storms. After all, people in Boston and Chicago, and Philadelphia and Denver trudge on, even when it snows.


I like my quiet snow days.

Still, learning something new is always good.

So, I remind myself, in all things, be grateful.


P.S. Why is this article about snow illustrated by a poodle? I took my toy poodle out for a walk today. As usual, he loved the snow. When we got back home, however, I realized that he had huge chunks and balls of ice stuck in the fur of his legs, and I couldn't get them out. So, I gave him a warm bath, which he needed anyway. Fun is a dog with a puppy's heart!


JoannaTopazT said...

Yes, it always seems strange to us in the northern states that things shut down in the South when it snows. We grow up with it, and learn to live with it -- and to respect it, when it comes to driving. But it still can be fun -- we've been sledding, have built a snowman and have more fun activities planned for this winter. When we're not inside drinking cocoa with marshmallows, reading books or playing board games.

Elizabeth said...

Well, in our defense, our snow tends to be icier, as we have lots of warm air mixing with the colder air and causing layers of water that freeze in between the layers of snow. Also, we don't have enough snow to justify buying equipment to take care of the roads. And, most of all, we just don't get that much experience with it. But, if things keep on going this way, we'll have to deal with it!

You snow day sounds fun!