Monday, January 24, 2011
My Genes Aren't Coded for Winter
As I write this, we still have snow left over from last Thursday’s snowstorm (only moderate in amount – only six inches). Yesterday another inch fell, which was better than the three to five originally predicted. And more may be coming later this week.
The six inches of snow from that one storm was double the total I had experienced from birth through 24 years old.
I grew up in the South, the far and deep South, like an hour from the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans had, and still has, three seasons – summer, July and August. We read about snow, of course; all of our school books were written and published by firms in New York. So even as a child, I knew that there were people who lived in places where the leaves fell off of trees and then grew back, and that a lot of people dealt with snow all the time. But not where I lived.
I remember the sheer delight of my second grade class when a light snow began. We rushed to the windows and stared, awed. There really was such a thing as snow. We got all of a half-inch, enough to completely paralyze the city. Salt wasn’t something you put on streets; salt was something in the water in the Gulf. And no one had ever seen a snow plow before.
It happened again when I was 12, with the same awe-inspiring results. They even had to close the school. It couldn’t get much better than that.
My last experience with snow was my senior year in college. Baton Rouge recorded an inch of snow, and the entire student newspaper staff hauled themselves to the back of the Journalism Building (built into a hill) and had a snowball fight. We were outright giddy.
Houston, where we lived for five years, was similar. We did have ice one Sunday; I remember it only because we had tickets for a concert downtown and I had never driven on that stuff before.
But that was my personal history of winter, until we moved to St. Louis.
I started my new job in mid-November, leaving behind 60-degree weather in Houston for 23 degrees when I landed. In early January, my wife arrived. The high was 1. We stayed for a few days in a hotel until our furniture arrived at our apartment. At the hotel, we discovered one of the most excruciating forms of torture ever devised: toilet seats in winter in an uninsulated hotel bathroom.
But we managed. We bought heavy coats and boats and overshoes and scarves and hats and always, always more than one pair of gloves. And snow shovels. Salt. All that stuff that never existed in Louisiana and southern Texas.
Then came January of 1982.
One Saturday night, we had gone out to eat with colleagues from the office. It was a going away dinner for our secretary, who was moving to New Jersey. The dinner would be followed by a big party. The forecast called for sleet but no accumulation.
We spent two hours at dinner. My wife excused herself for the ladies room, and then returned, with a rather ashen look on her face. “You can see out the window in the bathroom,” she said. “But I can’t see anything except snow.”
We paid the bill and prepared to leave. Outside, there was already six inches of snow on the ground, and you could barely see across the street. We decided to go home before the party and change. What should have been a 15-minute drive turned into an hour-and-a-half thrill ride. At one point, I had to brake hard, and managed to get the car pointed in the direction we were coming from. We passed a stuck snow plow. By the time we reached home, we’d decided to skip the party. We knew this storm was different.
It wasn’t just the thick snow.
It was the thunder and lightning accompanying the snow.
The babysitter for our almost two-year-old (he who is now the father of my grandchild) decided to spend the night with us.
It was still snowing the next morning. Our babysitter spent three nights with us, until her father found an all-wheel drive jeep to come into our neighborhood to rescue her. Our street wouldn’t be plowed for a week. By the time the snow stopped, we had an accumulation of more than two feet.
On Wednesday, I dressed like Randy in A Christmas Story and hiked up to the main street near our house. It was only a little over a mile to my office. The main street had been plowed, but it was hard to tell; mounds of snow were everywhere. I actually caught a ride with the friendly driver of an 18-wheeler.
We’ve never had a snow that bad since, but I knew then that my genes weren’t coded for winter.
This post is submitted for the One Word Blog Carnival on winter, hosted by Peter Pollock. To see other posts, please visit his site.
Photograph: Snow by Donna McNeely via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.