The Magical Power of the Snow Day
Reflections on childhood and a story about an accident
In winter, I experience a particular kind of ache these days.
It’s not a bad knee from a football injury. It’s a kind of dull, bruising ache that comes from longing for something from childhood. It’s elusive and unnamable but snow is always falling in my memory.
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I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina in a small town called Boone, population 3,333 at the time if you don’t count the college students at Appalachian State. Snow in a small Southern town is not like snow in Michigan. It’s not a relentless obstacle to be endured. It’s a magical event that hushes the world into a still reverie and sends an electric current through all school-age children who wake up at 5 A.M. to begin dialing the number on the rotary phone in the kitchen to see if school will be canceled. It almost always is but the historically capricious nature of the decision by the school board escalates the drama. Between the years of 1977 and 1984, you would find me dialing over and over and getting a busy signal until the one time my call made it through and I would hear the scratchy recording of the superintendent’s voice like he was whistling around a mouthful of gravel: “Schools in Watauga County will… (he seemed to pause for an eternity here, obviously relishing his power before delivering the goods) be closed today due to inclement weather.”
What followed was a pure dopamine rush of joy that I could feel all the way down to my toes. Like every other kid on my street, I would bundle up in a toboggan, mittens, and a scarf I only had occasion to use a couple of times a year. I have an early memory of not having snowboots and my mom putting plastic bread bags over my tennis shoes with rubber bands to cinch them at my calves. I would stay out in the snow for hours sledding and building snow forts with my friends until my wool hat was crusted with heavy pebbles of ice and my fingers and toes were numb.
Eventually, I would relent and go back inside where there would be a fire, some hot chocolate, and possibly a game of Scrabble. On those best days in my memory, my two older brothers didn’t sleep in, but instead came out with me and played like their younger selves.
The snow day is the embodiment of that longing, that ache I feel for the innocence of childhood and the closeness of family. I miss my young parents. I miss my young children. I miss my young brothers. I miss my young self. It is precarious to be just over the mid-point of this life looking back and afraid to look too far into the future.
This week, I’ll share a short story I published exactly a year ago when I was working through this snow ache. It’s not a nostalgic story, but a story of a chance meeting on a treacherous road between two men at opposite ends of life. I’ve released it from behind the paywall so everyone can read or listen for free.
What’s your relationship with snow?
How does winter affect you? Do you have a powerful memory where snow plays a central role? Share it with me in the comments.