In Defense of Southern Snows

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Our Backyard Today

It snowed in Atlanta last night. Ish. It was snowy…ish.

But our news outlets talked about it for three days straight and, I kid you not, had continuous coverage of the “Winter Weather Event” from 9pm until 6am. I didn’t know about any other world events and I was actually watching the news. This is the kind of thing that is making us dumber as a society.

As a life-long Southerner, I am used to being teased and taunted about our ridiculous reactions to snow and ice. We make for good SNL bits and internet memes because, yeah, we are not good with snow.

But I think there’s a little bit of a misunderstanding about the WHY of our craziness. So to help out our Northern friends and our moved-away-and-don’t remember friends and our Yankee transplant neighbors (yes, we still call you that behind your backs–but then we say “bless her heart” so it’s all good), here’s why we go nuts and buy out all the milk and bread and beer down at the Piggly Wiggly.**

1 Child-Like Wonder

I hear, every time that this happens, that we “wouldn’t know what to do with a real snow if we got one.” It usually comes from someone who moved down from Michigan or in the Facebook comment of a friend in Boston who “innocently” shares that she got 8 inches last night if you’d like some of the snow off her driveway. Smiley-face emoji.

We know it’s not real snow, dadgummit!

But it’s what we’ve got. I have ONE TIME, in my entire 40-year-old life, been able to make a full-sized snowman without scraping up all of the snow on my entire yard…and that was in 2014.

I have never made a successful snow angel. I have never had a snowball fight that lasted more than about 7 snowballs. My kids have no idea why icicle Christmas lights are called that because they have never seen icicles.  I have never owned a sled.

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Southern Icicles

But snow is pretty and glitters in the sunlight and is in every single winter movie, book, and magazine ever made. It is really hard to explain to your preschooler that, no, it’s not snowing, but yes, it is winter. Just Southern winter. Where it’s usually 33 degrees and raining.

And because our pitiful snows are rare, we never become jaded to it. I have never shoveled snow or owned a snow shovel. I have never seen a snow plow, let alone had to dig my car out of the snowbank caused by one. So unless you’re emergency personnel and you have to deal with all the people who “know how to drive in snow” but somehow wind up in a ditch, snow never brings any boring, hard-to-deal with grown-up feelings.

Snow is always worth clearing your schedule and snuggling in while you watch Southern children try to form snowballs out of ice pellets.

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Trying for Snowballs

2 We Really Aren’t Prepared for Snow

We aren’t prepared for snow, but it’s not exactly for the reasons most people think. When the 2014 Snowpocalypse happened and thousands of cars were left on roadways, it wasn’t because all of the cars were careening off the freeway left and right. That did happen some, but the real problem is that we don’t even try all that hard to be prepared and that seems to confuse the large non-native populations of our big cities.

Our governments try, in a half-hearted sort of way, to de-ice and treat the major freeways. Like, if it has 8 lanes it might get some salt on it. But the exits and overpasses? The side streets? Yeah, there are no trucks coming that way.

And it’s pretty hit and miss when the trucks roll out because snow prediction is awfully sketchy in the South. We kind of never know if the snow will really show up or not. When it snows during the day there’s almost nothing to do about it because there are already so many cars on the road.

In 2014, I had the following conversation with a new neighbor from Ohio:

Him: Why didn’t they pre-treat the roads?

Me: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Him: You know, the kind of bluish stuff they put down on the roads when it snows?

Me: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Him: Aren’t there trucks that go around and treat the streets?

Me: OK, I’m gathering there is some sort of product that would help this, but…I don’t know what you’re talking about.

It does not matter how many feet of snow you had to shovel growing up in New Jersey. If your exit ramp hasn’t been treated there is no way your Corolla without all-weather tires is getting up that concrete hill covered in a quarter-inch of ice. And then you are the moron blocking the road for the millions of people in a city already known for its traffic who all had to leave at the same time to try and beat their kids home from early-release due to snow.

And that’s just the roads. My kids managed to scrape together 5 total gloves for the 4 of them to use outside this morning. And by gloves I mean the knit kind that have almost no ability to protect your hands from cold. Sometimes we have fleece gloves–also not waterproof. Once I bought everyone the mittens you might wear skiing and our kids lost them, ironically, in Charleston, South Carolina on the one day that it was below freezing there.

As a kid I only knew that snowsuits were a thing you might wear over your actual clothes  because I saw it in A Christmas Story. We don’t have waterproof pants or coats or hats or…well, any equipment that would allow a person to keep functioning outside in the snow.

No snow tires, no ice scrapers for your windshield, no winterizing…anything. My husband had to pry open the toy chest we keep on the back porch because it was frozen shut this morning. We keep an outdoor toy chest all year long because there’s no reason not to.

So, yep, we are unprepared for snow. And we kind of like it that way because…

3 Forced Downtime is Healthy…and Fun

Although I have lived my entire life in the South I have, in fact, seen “real” snow on a few occasions. The most extreme example I’ve ever been in was in Alaska.

One of my college roommates, who is brave and earnest, got a teaching job in a Yup’ik village on an island in the Bering Sea and I went to go visit her.

I spent a week in a place that was imminently prepared for snow, but also lived at its mercy. The only “road” was a frozen river that people drove on with their snowmobiles (although they called them snow machines–a word that, to me, means that thing that makes snow for you at Southern ski resorts). The actual ocean was frozen over and I got to stand on it.

I got snowed in for a few extra days because the planes wouldn’t run (the only way on and off the island) and got to experience “real” snow where teenagers frequently had a “little bit” of frostbite on their cheeks from staying outside too long.

One night, we bundled up and made our way to the community center for an exhibition of their traditional dance. On the way I kept slipping and sliding and realized that I must be doing something different than the people in front of me. I noticed that the native people took smaller steps and walked at a more measured pace.

I remember thinking, “how much of your life would be different if even learning to walk meant bending to nature on a daily basis? How might you think differently if you were forced to actually move more slowly?”

Most of our lives are planned and scheduled and detailed for days or weeks ahead of time. But when it snows, in the South at least, we get to just stop. It’s like a holiday, but without the possibility of having to sleep on someone else’s hide-a-bed in the living room.

It’s an excuse to clear your calendar and spend the day(s) with the people you’ve chosen in the place you’ve chosen.

It’s delayed responsibility. It’s a forced, unplanned mini-retreat. It’s a chance to bend to an outside force and let yourself just be. Hopefully safe, hopefully warm.

This is why we’re buying out the grocery store–not because we fear dying in our homes in 30 degree weather for two days–but so that our newly discovered days off will be relaxing and peaceful and filled with cookies and chocolate, and again, beer.

It’s like getting ready for a camping trip that you’re going to take in your own home. And if some ice-laden branches start snapping off those 80-ft pine trees and take out the above-ground power lines, you’ll still be able to make sandwiches without leaving again and breaking the spell of the isolated little world of your own kingdom.

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Cider on the Stove

We know our snowfalls are incredibly minor and it is comical to people who function in knee deep snow all the time. We know that if we really tried none of this would ever be a problem. Ah, but it’s fun to replace running errands with snowballs and a fire or school with hot chocolate and pjs.

We know it looks ridiculous to those of you for whom snow is commonplace, but we are having fun. We are weaving our own little magic of childhood joy and freedom and hope for tomorrow that it just…might…snow.

Happy Snow Day.

**I’m kidding. I haven’t seen a Piggly Wiggly in 30 years that wasn’t in Driving Miss Daisy. We just go to the Kroger or Publix.

 

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