Posted by on Feb 21, 2014 in Memoir, Personal, SNOW, Southern, y'all, Uncategorized | 10 comments

Snow church

i.

“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up….”

It was little more than a punchline to me back when it aired, a TV commercial for LifeCall, a med-alert device for the elderly. Unintentionally campy. A joke’s butt. Easy target for late night talk show hosts.

Though I can’t say for certain, I imagine back in the day even I made sport of it. So the irony is not wasted on me, now, that when my countenance falls, that is the pathetic whimper of my spirit:

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.

Last week it snowed everywhere I’ve ever lived.

All those images of blinding white turned my brown eyes

green and

then blue.

 

ii.

It happened over 30 years ago and to this day remains one of my fondest childhood memories:  a winter storm that brought layers of ice and snow and flannel and wool.

Trees fell. Power lines snapped. And teenagers teemed from their houses like ants escaping a flood.

It was before cell phones existed and though I can’t remember if home phone service was affected, somehow we managed to find one another.  Prowling from house to house – on foot, because the roads were sheets of slick glass – we hunted for two things:  food and fire.

We were wolves, moving in a pack.

There were a lot of kids in my neighbor but we weren’t necessarily all friends.  Sure, we knew each other, but high school divides just as much as it clicks.  But give us a wintry mix and what you have is The Breakfast Club effect–a bunch of teens as different as night and day and Mars and Venus, finding a way toward each other.

At least that’s how I remember it.

Ours was one of the lucky houses; we had a gas stove.  The previous owners had created an apartment of sorts upstairs–a bedroom, a bathroom, and a tiny alcove with a kitchen sink and gas range.

That winter storm was the only time I recall us using the upstairs stove.

 

iii.

Living in the Southeastern United States my entire life, I’ve only had one white Christmas.  One shimmery, sparkly, enchanting, miraculous white Christmas.  I know it’s not true, but I wanted to claim it as a God-gift especially to me (just like when he sent the baby rainbow to my front yard).

If snow is forecast, sound sleep is impossible; I’ll awaken and look out my window a dozen times.  When my hopes are raised high by the weatherman’s prediction, they fall particularly hard when he’s wrong; more often the case than not.

I realize not everyone shares my fizzy affections for random, Southern snowfall ~

It’s cold. Pipes freeze. Nose runs. Ears are cold. Trees are lifeless. Power goes out. It’s drab and gray outside. Ground is mushy. Grass is dead. Days are short. Clothes are wet. It’s cold. Cars crash. Roads close. Sidewalks are slippery. Snowball fights result in stinging welts. Snowmen get dirty mud and grass rolled up inside them (unlike the movies). It’s cold. Batteries die. Power bills are higher. Clothes are bulky and binding. Skin is pale. Skin is dry. Weight is gained. No BBQs. It’s cold. Run out of bread. Run out of milk. No milk sandwiches. It’s cold.  ~ my friend, Jason, and his thoughts on winter and snow

My husband thought Jason’s approximation was spot on.  It’s one of those things upon which we agree to disagree.

 

iv.

The year we moved to Tennessee, I thought we were finally moving to a place that would have a proper winter:  decent snow half a dozen times scattered between Thanksgiving and Groundhog Day.  That’s how it went in RobinWorld, anyway.

Only after we were there a while and I started talking to people, I realized we lived in the Tennessee Valley – roughly the same elevation as our previous hometown and all the ones before that.  They had just as little snowfall as everywhere else I had lived.

Except that winter, a huge snowstorm was forecast!  Predictions of 10″-12″ inches went on for days, and I could barely sleep a wink the night it was to arrive.

Before morning’s first light, I awakened to green grass and the bad breath of disappointment.

The snow apparently didn’t get the memo we had moved, so it skipped us and went straight to where we had just left.

This was 2003, five years before I would join Facebook, but friends from our hometown were emailing updates about their snowfall.  They tried to measure the snow but their rulers sank below the surface.

Their joy sounded 10 feet tall but my disappointment had no bounds.

I was stupid-depressed and hated myself for feeling so low over something as silly as not getting snow.

I wouldn’t realize until over a decade later it really wasn’t about the snow….

 

v.

It happened again last week, just over 10 years from the previous time. History repeated.

We moved; but this time I had no delusions of snow this winter, we’re farther South and temperatures run noticeably higher.

Except sometimes God is really generous and he’ll throw a girlfriend a bone–

We had a bit of snow the other week, and yes, it made me so happy I literally jumped for joy, but….

But

Something was missing.

Grasping air and straws for most of my life when asked Why do you love snow so much? I finally put my finger on it this past week, when, like I said, history repeated itself.  Once again, snow was forecast where we lived, but it skipped us and went straight to our hometown, and all the ones before that…

In my funk, I tried to figure out how this no-snow thing could affect me so deeply – I mean, broken-heart sad, like I’ve been robbed of something valuable (and as soon as I tapped those words out, I realize how stupid-crazy it sounds).

Like usual, I thought about my favorite childhood winter memory…

and I remembered The Great Snow Disappointment of 2003…

and in the midst of torturing myself by stalking Facebook images of snow EVERYWHERE I’VE EVER LIVED…

I finally realized it wasn’t about the snow.

Wait–that’s probably not true; it is about the snow, but that’s not the all of it.

It’s about the magic of the snow!

 

Now, I realize this isn’t universal, and for my Northern and Mid-western friends it’s a different story, but I suspect it’s the nature of scarcity that makes significant snowfall so special in the South.

School is canceled at the first mention of it because municipalities aren’t equipped to handle the roads; though they’re cursed or reviled or simply made fun of, it’s best to err on the side of caution.  I wanna smack people when they disdain Southerners for not being able to drive in the snow, BECAUSE WHY SHOULD WE KNOW HOW TO?  It’s a rarity, we don’t have snow tires, and snow plows are practically nonexistent!

It’s like expecting someone to know how to swim when they’ve never been under water.

When it snows, we come out of our homes and find one another.  We share what we have and make sure everyone has what they need.  We feed and take care of each other.  Grown-ups rediscover the art of play–my God, my 74-year-old father -in-law built a snowman, and it was just he and my mother-in-law at home!

Yes, we birth snowmen and think they’re Beauty when, really, they more closely resemble the Beast bless our hearts – All those rocks and leaves and twigs woven right into frosty white sweaters.

We can’t run errands, or go shopping, or go very far at all. Whether or not we fight or embrace it, life slows down.  We make sleds out of cookie sheets and trashcan lids, and because there are baby booms nine months after snow storms, apparently a lot of people are making something else, too.  We’re present with one another.

Boundaries are erased and we walk a common experience.

We talk about the weather because it is something to talk about!

But when you’re in a new place and snow happens, those things don’t yet exist….

My longing for snow is a longing for–

people at their best,

cherished moments and memory-making,

rediscovering the value of play for play’s sake…

but mostly a longing for community.

Forever I thought it was just about the frozen stuff.  But that was only the tip of the iceberg.

What lies beneath the surface is so much bigger (isn’t that usually the case?).