Waiting on snow

Published 2:52 pm Saturday, January 7, 2017

We waited, staring out the window begging the snow to fall.

The clouds were there. The cold air was there. The moisture was there. But it didn’t come as quickly as the weather app on my iPhone said it would. And it was more sleet than snow, but it was cold and white and that’s all that mattered.

Here in the South, snow is a sacred thing. Children pray for it, wait for it, watch for it and then spend a few glorious hours playing in it before the sun takes it from them or their fingers freeze. Never mind that it disrupts everything, often leads to car accidents and, in general, is a headache. It’s snow and it’s wonderful.

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Growing up just a couple hours northeast of here, I understand South Mississippi’s fascination with snow. After living in North Carolina a few years, I also learned to hate it like most folks north of Mississippi do.

But my childhood memories of snow are some of my favorites, and since snow only falls every few years, those memories are fixed for a lifetime. We tend to remember the rare things and forget those that are common.

Once, when I was probably 8 years old, my father woke me in the middle of the night so we could play in the snow.

I can still see the moonlight reflecting off the blanket of white that covered our backyard in Decatur. I can hear our boots crunching through the snow, still perfect as if it had been ironed smooth. I don’t know how much actually fell, but it felt a foot deep to me then.

There was the time it snowed a couple inches and we rode three-wheelers all over town. Our small city of 1,500 was completely shut down and our one traffic light was blinking red. The highway was empty, save for our ATVs. The manager at the gas station by the highway gave us all free fried chicken since he knew no one would be buying lunch that day. It was greasy and hot and perfect.

After the snow and ice thawed, we discovered we had left foot-deep ruts in yards all over town. The next couple days were spent with a shovel, filling those in.

I remember when the pond at our family’s farm once froze over and was sprinkled with snow. My black labrador tried to walk across it despite my calls for him to stop. He broke through and I learned quickly that it’s tough to rescue a panicked, soaking wet, freezing 50-pound dog.

There was the time it snowed when my wife and I lived in Natchez. We took our son to play in the yard of the Melrose estate at the historical park. We ran around the house liked we owned the place and took photos with the mansion behind us. Those are still some of my favorite family pictures.

And then there was our first winter in North Carolina. We stayed up late one night waiting on the snow like any good Southerner would. We frolicked in it the next morning, then later that evening. And we did the same thing the next morning. By that second evening, we were tired of being wet and cold and when the snow stuck around another day, we started to cuss it like everyone else.

Our vehicles couldn’t make the 50-yard trip down the driveway without getting stuck. The city we lived in had a few snowplows but couldn’t keep up with what was falling. So we basically pressed pause on life for a few days. We were stuck inside the house, and while the snow was as pretty as ever, it had lost its charm.

It took moving back to Mississippi to love snow again. And now my children, who were too young to remember those North Carolina winters, love it the same way I did as a child.

They’ll ignore the purple fingers and wet feet and play in it until we force them to come inside and warm up. They’ll dream of it and pray for it to come again. And when they’re older, they’ll remember the sad-looking, usually-brown, Mississippi snowmen we all build, with their tiny misshapen heads and stick arms. Those memories will last, unlike the snow that falls in the South.

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.