Back in my youth, when a school called a snow a day, there were likely several feet of it already on the ground. I’ve trudged home from school in knee-deep snow holding my sister’s waist as she did the same to our brother in front of her — lest one of us, bewildered by the brightness and diminished by the freezing temperatures, wandered off into a snow bank and therein remain until spring.
This unfortunate event was referred to as “igloo-ing it.” We’d shout to another over the insistent rumbling wind, “Stay close together; you don’t want to igloo it.”
I never actually met a child who had iglooed it. But there were rumors that Mr. Abbrose, the mean-spirited curmudgeon who lived two houses down and shot cannon balls at children as they frolicked in the street and poisoned his lawn so that if you touched it, your fingers would turn blue and your hair would fall out, had survived it. We all believed Mr. Abbrose behaved this way because 100 years ago he had forsaken caution while walking home from the bus and ended up igloo-ing it until spring.
Our school superintendent was especially cruel, rarely calling us off even with snow racing down from the sky and barricading our doors requiring we sweep ourselves out with brooms left standing at attention for just such a purpose. We would all huddle around the radio early on those dark winter mornings to hear the school closings listed. As school systems do today, they alphabetized them, and our school unluckily landed in the middle of the list.
These were somber moments in the house. Our late place in the line gave us time to assess our chances and place strategic bets. If the announcer got to the “M’s” within a few schools, we knew we had better put on our boots and get out the door. But if the announcer labored over 10 or 20 names, despite experience telling us otherwise, we encapsulated all that is good and pure about childhood: We believed. Usually our stubborn superintendent made us go, but every once in a magical while, we were granted the privilege of a snow day.
So you can imagine my confusion as winter ended in Asheville. Schools and churches were shutting down without any of the traditional warnings we had come to expect — namely, snow, and, in some cases, actual cold weather. We all huddled around our televisions and computer screens, waiting to see what sorts of perils the predictions would pummel upon us. These prestidigitators carefully calculated wind speeds and frontal factors using used words like southeasterly and isobar with serious intensity.
As a city, we panicked, rushing to the grocery store to stock up on essentials including toilet paper and Pop Tarts. We stood in motionless lines, heads bent over our phones, worrying over the weather, checking to see if the snowflake on the predication screen remained, or was replaced by the less alarming raindrop. We engaged each other with an unusual effrontery. “Looks like the city will be shut down again tomorrow,” I heard stranger say to stranger. Both would have chins to chest, fingers wiggling about the phone, switching screens and screening calls from alarmed family members vacationing in Aruba.
We whipped ourselves into a proper whirlwind, wondering, worrying and wishing. The true Weather Worriers among us kept those of us with a more mild interest abreast of changes. “I just read that the cloudburst is producing a cold snap that will turn into a cold wave washing us in a cold front. There is sure to be black ice.”
This worried me. Black ice sounded ominous and unfriendly. Regular ice was manageable, we’ve had experience with regular ice, many of us keeping it inside our homes to refresh our drinks. But black ice sounded serious like an infection or a disease. As the schools closed early, stuffing the little children into school busses that drove on dry streets warmed by the afternoon sun, we continued our watch, relying on electronics to inform and instruct us during this perilous time.
But we are mountain folk, at heart. We are entwined in our ecosystem in ways larger cities cannot understand. Our ancestors watched the weather, predicting snow based on the clouds and animal behavior. So it was just a matter of time before we put down our devices and walked outside and craned our necks up up up towards the sky.
Like Whitman’s learned astronomer, we grew weary of charts and graphs and how soon “we became tired till rising and gliding out into the mystical moist night air looked up in perfect silence at the stars.” And in the darkness of the night, the snow danced down from heaven as our children squealed and the snowmen lived among us once again.