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.


nance marie said...

i get the drift of the story...

i bet the little one likes to go out in the snow.
my mom use to bundle us up so much we could hardly move our arms to play.

sometimes i miss the four distinct seasons of the midwest.

Peter P said...

Thunder and lightning with snow?

I didn't even know that was possible!


S. Etole said...

That scene looks vaguely familiar ...

Tracy Krauss said...

My favorite line was the one about dressing like Randy. Love it! (That is such a funny movie) As someone who has lived most of my life in the 'North' and many years in the FAR NORTH (above the 60th parallel which is basically by Alaska)I love to laugh at the trauma of those who are not used to the snow or cold temperatures.(All in fun, of course :) Such dramatics! Blessings

Cassandra Frear said...

What a great story!

I have stories like this, too -- from Pennsylvania! But never a babysitter who spent three nights with us.

Once, we had 3 feet of snow and I lost my 2 year old behind a drift. Talk about terror!

Maureen said...

You remember what we had here in the D.C. area last winter. This year (so far) it's everyone else's turn.

H. Gillham said...

I am not conditioned for it either.
We Southerners only like it once a year and for it only to "close the schools" but allow us to run wild.


Great blog.

katdish said...

Holy cow! Having grown up in the same climate (and remembering how the city of Houston basically shuts down if there's a 1/2" of snow), it's hard to imagine getting hit with that much snow at once.

Bill (cycleguy) said...

I can imagine your shock Glynn. Having grown up near Pittsburgh and then all my life in Ohio and Indiana as a pastor, the snow is a fact of life. My oldest daughter lives in Knoxville and they are paralyzed when one snowflake falls. Okay...slight exaggeration but you get the point. :) Here's to hoping you are more used to it now and acclimated.

jasonS said...

I was thinking the same as Peter. If I saw a snowstorm with thunder and lightning I would probably be thinking Jesus was soon returning. :)

Great story, Glynn.

Anne Lang Bundy said...

My genes aren't coded for winter anymore either. I buy winter outerwear from Cabela's and smile politely at people who call me 'eskimo.'

Those two-foot snows don't come often, but they sure are memorable when they strike. This is a fine telling. I read parts aloud to my daughter as she sits here working on school stuff. (She hates winter.) You elicited several sympathetic groans from her.

Helen said...

I'm glad you made it home alright. I kept thinking it was a good thing you left the party when you did.

HisFireFly said...

What a wonderful telling of a story I know all too well - the changing of plans to suit the weather, the unpredictability.. I'm not sure any of us truly have the genes for it, but I believe He carries those of us in the frozen North.

Thunder and lightening in a snowstorm would be a glorious sight to see!

Deidra said...

We had thunder and lightening in a snowstorm once, when we lived in NC. It was quite the experience.

I love a true story filled with adventure (and references to A Christmas Story).

A Joyful Noise said...

Many years ago, we lived in Oklahoma for a year, and we did encounter real snow. Also thunder and lightening but not with the snow. The night before we left to return to California, we experienced such a farewell of thunder, lightening, and torrent rain. I truly understand your genes not being programmed for that type of winter.

all that i am said...

I'm Filipino, born in southern in northern West Virginia and snowed in at the moment. No public schools today, the university even canceled classes yesterday!
I love these days...I always have...everything canceled, being home.
Winter is farrrr tooo long for good snow or two a year and I'd be happy.
and every time it snows I thank God that He choose to make snow WHITE...and not grey or brown or even blue or green or orange...