I grew up with snow. Living in northeast Tennessee, we expected that winter would bring its share of snow each year and snow was both anticipated for the enjoyment it brought and was dreaded for the complications that came with it. I miss those days.
Snow meant neighborhood snowball fights, the building of countless snowmen, and sledding down one of the streets near my home that excited me then but would terrify me now. It’s a wonder that some of us didn’t get hurt badly, so steep and treacherous was that quarter-mile long road.
In warmer weather, none of us would ever dare to attempt to ride a bike down that hill and it was too steep to ride up it. As I got older and became a teenager, we actually had sled races on that hill which raised the danger threshold considerably. Crashes into bushes, ditches, and even houses were common. Some of us called it “Suicide Hill.”
There were downsides as well. Unlike my present home in Georgia where a few stray flakes will cancel schools and keep people at home, life went on as normal, however much it snowed. The superintendent of schools back then was Dr. Dana Swick. For years and years, it was said that it was, “Never too slick for Swick.” Snow did not mean that schools would be closed and neither did we expect it. Snow days were built into the school schedule, but we rarely had to worry about it.
Since schools were almost never closed, those of us who rode the bus had to endure walking up and down the slick and sometimes ice-covered hilly streets. The powers that be usually had the main roads covered with salt but the side roads, where people lived, were covered with the slick stuff until either the traffic or temperatures beat it down. Most of the kids I knew when I was a younger student had two pairs of shoes: tennis shoes for gym class and leather-bottomed dress shoes for class. Neither were appropriated for wear in the snow. Falling multiple times on the journey to and from the bus stop was always a danger.
Nevertheless, snow was eagerly anticipated. In the dead of winter when all the trees were bare and the world seemed dead and ugly, a fresh blanket of snow would bring with it the beauty of winter and the brightness of brilliant white. Snow somehow was magical. Even while waiting for the bus in frigid temperatures, snow was comforting in a way. Winter was the season I liked the least — except when it snowed. Then, for as long as the snow lasted, it was my favorite.
As I grew into adulthood, my attitude toward snow changed. It was a bother, an obstacle, an inconvenience. I never learned to ski so I had little incentive to go out into it. When I was taking some seminary courses at a school northwest of Pittsburgh one January, it snowed every day for three weeks. Walking across the campus with the dean of the doctoral program, he asked me how my time on the campus was this term. I said that it had changed my theology.
“Really?” he said. “In what way?” I said that I now believed that Hell was cold and located about 28 miles northwest of the Pittsburgh airport.
Yet, as an adult, I also had the opportunity to enjoy the snow with my sons. On one memorable day, we spent most of Christmas Day on the Grand Mesa near Grand Junction, Colo., where the snow could be measured in feet rather than inches. One July 5th, when the temperature was 108 in the Grand Valley, we returned to the Grand Mesa and, with friends, hiked up to the fishing spot where there were still snow drifts and the temperature still cold. In fact, we called off the venture when it began to snow hard.
Now, I live about 45 minutes south of the Atlanta airport where even the threat of snow will close schools, cause a panic run to the supermarket, and close businesses. Ultimately, most of the time, there may be a few flurries but not enough snow to even make a snowball. There have been exceptions.
In 1993, Georgia experienced what many called the “Storm of the Century” in Georgia. Union County experienced 35 inches of snow and, where I live, there were 9 inches of snow on the ground. Birmingham, Alabama reported 13 inches of snow. In all, 318 people in the United States died as a result of the storm.
In my area, it was northeast Tennessee all over again. Sleds that hadn’t been used came out, schools and businesses shut down, and it seemed that nearly every house had a snowman by day’s end. Of course, since there are no hills where I live, the sledding wasn’t exactly heart-stopping. Still, here in the flatlands, it was a magical experience.
Generally, if it does snow here overnight, any snow that falls on the roads is generally cleared by lunchtime. If the road crews haven’t cleared it, the sun and warm temperatures do the job. Recently, the weather reports warned that snow was on the way. It was a Sunday, and we were in church with nary a flake in sight.
Then, about halfway through the service, the snow began to fall. I had visions of the pasture in front of our house being covered with a white blanket, broken only by the small herd of deer we see regularly. But it was all a tease. The snow melted as soon as it touched the earth.
I don’t envy people who live in, say, North Dakota. That’s too much snow and I don’t want to dress all winter long wearing seventeen layers of clothing. But here, in Georgia, I do miss an occasional snowfall. I want to stay home that day, watch the snow come down, see the world covered by that white blanket, and have a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. I want to go outside and tramp in the snow and make sure the bird feeder is full. When not outside, I want to build a fire in the fireplace, read a book, and, occasionally, remember long ago days when my friends and I took our lives in our hands and flew down Suicide Hill and lived to tell about it.
There are a few weeks left in winter this year, almost two months, actually. In 1945 Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne wrote a song that has been recorded by countless singers and is still popular today. Who could not recognize the song that proclaims, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”? Children of all ages, myself included, sing it as a hope and a prayer. Let it snow.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemic, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]