When it snowed, the world stopped. That's how it was in the 1960s South where there were no road crews to speak of, no plows, just a few pathetic pickups dribbling salt on the major highways.
A good ground covering and the schools closed, the city government closed, many businesses closed, Mama and Daddy stayed home from work and all there was for the kids to do was play outside until they were numb.
Snow was a rare occurrence, so it all worked out. There were no worries about loss of productivity, missed classes, makeup days at the end of the school year. This was just a free, democratic holiday for everyone.
I still wake up in the middle of the night when snow comes and the sky goes eerily powdered and light. I throw open the blinds so I can watch from my bed -- snowflakes flowing down across the corner street light, harder now, blowing, lighter now, barely distinguishable. Is it still snowing? I doze and wake up every few minutes to check. Maybe tomorrow will be a snow day. Maybe the world will stop.
But even when snow comes, in the Rocky Mountain West, those glorious free snow days are rare. We brush off the car, load up the kids and slide to work and school. Outside, the diamond whiteness lies untrampled by sleds and snow boots while inside, we all wish we were at home, warming hot chocolate.
Colorado kids grow up inured to snow. It's a nuisance if it doesn't get you out of school. At best, it's ski-worthy, a platform for sport. Kids here know how to dress for snow and grow up with the right stuff -- layers, fleece, lined boots, waterproof jackets and gloves. My kids have memories of marathon snow days spent sledding in a nearby city park, but they lack the sense of wonder that snow brings to someone who has rarely seen it.
Here is what I remember:
Our mittens are knitted and seep water, so we cover our hands in plastic bread bags. Our mother digs up every kind of head-, foot- and hand-covering imaginable. We stalk out the door like zombies, unable to bend for the bulk of clothes beneath our coats and pants. If you itch, it's too bad. You can't bend your fingers and you can't burrow deep enough to find skin.
The world is so quiet outside our hooded heads. The snow crunches beneath our mammoth feet and our voices ring thin in the snow light air. We learn to walk first, then bend, then scoop, then fall. We knock each other over like inflatable punching bags. The snow and our layers of soft clothing absorb all blows.
We fill a giant mixing bowl with snow so our mother can make snow ice cream with milk and sugar. She hates the cold and sticks out an uncovered arm through the door from the warm kitchen, quickly drawing the bowl inside.
We wish for a few cars to drive down the street to pack the snow down for sledding, but the only cars we see are frozen at precarious angles on the sides of the road, as if their drivers stopped mid-journey and just walked away. A few of the bigger boys try sliding first, and eventually pack a narrow path. We line up behind each other on a wooden sled with metal runners, our legs V-ed around the hips of the person in front who steers and breaks. The first few runs are sluggish, but we lean back and eventually pick up speed.
Streamlining, we go down stretched on our stomachs, stacked on top of each other, the person on top giving a running send-off, then leaping onto the top of the stack. Too many riders and the stack wobbles and collapses midway through the run. At the bottom of the hill, a deliberate collapse and tumble, our own warm breath condensing on our eyelashes as we lie on our backs for a brief moment, looking skyward. Delicate flakes tumble from a gray background. We open our mouths and stick out our tongues but never can catch one.
We stomp home, frozen and sated. Our front yards are chopped up and jumbled with sunken footprints, angel imprints, makeshift forts and bald spots where sickly brown grass has been revealed. We shriek at the sight of dog piss, lemon yellow in the snow, hovering at the foot of a tree.
Inside, we strip to the bottom-most layer as our mother spreads towels on the kitchen floor. We are temporarily blinded by the absence of the outdoor light. Our cheeks are numb; our toes ache. We pour Hershey's chocolate over a bowl of snow ice cream.
Outside, for the second time today, the world has stopped.