Snow Days

My high school French teacher taught us a little chant of sorts for when there was snow imminent, so we could all chant for snow (and thus a snow day), in French, of course.

Flocon de neige
Boule de neige
Bonhomme de neige
Neige neige neige

It’s funny, the things that stick in your mind. It’s been 30 years since I learned that, but it always comes up for me when the flakes start falling. I was awakened at 5:30 this morning by some insane person shoveling outside our apartment window. They only shoveled for what seemed to be 30 seconds. Maybe they were clearing their car, I don’t know. But shoveling at 5:30 am on a Sunday morning is grounds for murder, I think. Being the morning person I have always been cursed to be, I was instantly awake, the brain started babbling, and it wasn’t long before I gave up and got out of bed. Inconsiderate fuckers.

I grew up in South Jersey, about 20 minutes outside Philadelphia. In those days (the 1980s), we had a lot of snow in winter. Blizzards were common. I mean, we didn’t get snow like Buffalo gets snow, or Canada, but we had a lot. I remember plunging through drifts that went up to my waist a least (granted, I was a kid, but these are my memories). When we first moved to the neighborhood, which was composed of three cul-de-sacs, the homes were still mostly under construction and the roads were awful. There was something wrong with the storm drains, or they hadn’t been put in yet, or something, and our road, the only road in and out of the neighborhood, would flood in heavy rains. We were also out on the edge of the township, in an area of mostly farmland that had never needed snowplowing before, so that first year, the roads didn’t get plowed, and we couldn’t get out for work or school or even to shop for necessities.

These were the old days, kids, before you could order everything online and make Amazon drive it to your door. None of us even had a computer in our houses then. Shocking, I know. It was a hard life.

Anyway, my dad used to tell the story of that first winter, and apparently all of the men (I don’t know if women helped or not, I just remember him saying “men”) got together and shoveled the streets clear. I don’t remember that, but I was probably busy building a snowman or throwing snowballs at my kid brother or reading something in the house. I do remember when the street flooded the next spring, because my mother drove a 1978 Buick and our neighbor had a Firebird sports car. Guess which one couldn’t get through the flood? We ended up tying her car to our bumper and pulling her through the waters and out to the main highway.

A few years later, another blizzard hit, but by then the township would plow our streets. However, being three cul-de-sacs, they basically would push the massive piles of snow straight to the end of the road. This was fine on the two off-shoot streets, because there were no houses at the direct end of them. But our street was the main street to which the others connected, and two of my friends lived in the house directly at the end of it. So when the plows pushed what seemed like 10 feet of snowpiles up to the front of their house, it was like someone had built us the ultimate snowfort. While their dad had the horrible task of clearing access to his driveway, we took to the mountain and began tunneling into it. We made caves we could sit in, and walls we could hide behind during snowball fights—for which we were able to make a massive stockpile of ammunition and store it where other kids couldn’t get to it.

When I was a teenager, and had recently gotten my license, another blizzard hit. We were living with my dad then, in a larger, more established town and neighborhood. He had sold me his car, which I kept parked on the street outside our house. That year, for whatever reason, the plows didn’t come through, and the snow was very difficult to get through. I think we also had an ice storm that year, which didn’t help. We managed the best we could, but Dad still had to go to work, we still needed groceries (still no computers or internet in the house!), and so on. Then, one day, as we all sat around in our pajamas watching TV and probably stuffing our faces, a loud noise began rumbling down the street. It was a plow! But this plow wasn’t from the township, and it was clearly being driven by someone who was not messing around. It plunged down the street, piling snow on every car parked at the curbs. Thrilled at the chance to free our cars but worried we wouldn’t get there in time, we all threw our coats on and ran to our cars to clear them out of his way. I remember tromping through ice puddles with my bathrobe trailing out behind me, collecting snow as I went.

We found out much later that the guy in the plow was a resident from a few blocks up our street. He had very recently purchased a new sports car, and the day before, it had been totaled when another car coming into the neighborhood lost control in the snowdrifts and slid sideways into his parked car. He’d borrowed the plow from a friend who drove one, and he was venting his anger by clearing our street. I think ours was actually the only street in the neighborhood that did get plowed after that storm.

I have lots of other snow memories, but I’m not going to write them all out. Not today, at least. I will say that the last year my ex and I lived in Virginia before moving to Florida we had another blizzard; I was pregnant then, and walking to and from the car on frozen sidewalks was an adventure. It basically cemented our determination to move south, and once we were in the “Sunshine State,” I never thought I’d see winter weather again.

Life is funny that way.

The first winter after B and I moved to Virginia, we had—you guessed it—another blizzard. This one was rough, because our blood was still thin from the warmer climate and our wardrobes were still light on warm clothes. We had little money then, so we scrounged what we could from Goodwill and other thrift stores, including a shovel and ice scrapers, but when the storm hit, I was the only one of us who had gotten gloves. I also learned that I was the only one of us who had ever actually seen—or shoveled—deep snow. B grew up in Tennessee and Florida, and he’d never experienced more than a scattering of snow. Thus it was me who ventured out in the two feet of snow and began shoveling. B stood on the porch with a cup of coffee in his hand and marveled at the wonder of it all. He had been hoping to see some snow, and after this I told him he was forbidden to ask for any more. And that the next time, shoveling would be HIS job.

So here we are today, our second winter in northern Virginia. The snow’s slowed to a light flurry for now, but I won’t be surprised to see it pick up again; they’re forecasting it to last well into tomorrow. We have a fire in the fireplace, and I can hear the plows in the parking lot outside, so I imagine our cars will be slightly piled in tomorrow. I should probably warn B about this; he has to go to work early. Not that he’s likely to listen, but then at least I’d be able to say I told him so, right?