I remember crowding around my mom’s radio on cold and snowy mornings, barely breathing, waiting for the words that would give me my freedom for the day. It was the WKZO Clock Show – called that because the show was almost exactly the same every single day, eliminating the need to actually look at a clock. We knew precisely where we should be in our morning routine by what was playing on the radio. 6:43, Blue Cross commercial; 6:44, Be-Mo Potato Chip commercial; 6:45, easy listening song, usually by Anne Murray or Sergio Mendes. And so on.
On snowy days, they changed their routine to list the school closings alphabetically. It took forever to get to the letter “P”. My sisters and I would usually start arguing around the letter “K” because Kalamazoo was a bigger district and if they were closed, surely we would be too. We’d get louder and louder until one of us would say, ”Shhhh! They just said Otsego!”
Parchment Public Schools. . . . Paw Paw Public Schools. . . .Portage Public Schools. Ahh, music to our ears!
Mom would sigh and fix herself another cup of instant coffee or light a second cigarette, and start listing our do’s and don’ts. No friends over. Don’t spend the whole day watching TV. Wash our own dishes. Don’t fight with each other. Don’t leave the yard. Then she would leave for work, probably more worried about the safety of her house than the safety of her children.
I honestly don’t remember what my older sisters did on snow days. They probably went back to bed or watched TV, or talked to friends on the phone. Maybe they played outside with me, but I really don’t remember whether they did or not. I just remember that there were always plenty of neighborhood kids around. Kids in my grade with older and younger siblings – kids we didn’t always recognize through the layers of scarves and hats and gloves, most of which were oversized and mismatched hand-me-downs from each other.
In those days, we wore big winter boots that fit over our shoes. To keep our shoes from getting stuck inside the boots, we would put on a shoe and stick the foot inside an empty bread wrapper before jamming it in to the boot. The colorful ends of the bread bags would stick out over the boot tops, proudly telling the world which kids were lucky enough to get Wonder Bread in their homes and which of us were stuck with the generic stuff.
I remember snowball fights and snow forts and impromptu games of Fox and Hen; hikes through knee-deep snow to Lexington Green Park so we could take turns falling off the swings and monkey bars; chasing each other around until we wiped out on the frozen tennis courts. Some days, we’d take our round plastic sleds along to ride down the two-foot hill at the park, pretending we were on a much bigger and scarier hill.
We’d get cold and go home for whatever was hot and easy to grab for lunch. Then we’d squirm back into our still-wet winter clothes and head back out for more.
The best snow days were the ones when we went ice-skating. Mom kept a row of pretty white ice skates hanging from nails underneath the basement stairs. I was a terrible skater, but that never stopped me from feeling graceful and beautiful the moment I laced those wonderful skates on my feet. I was Peggy Fleming! I was Dorothy Hamill!
By some unspoken agreement, we’d each sling a pair of skates around our necks like a scarf, and someone would grab a snow shovel, and we’d walk the half-mile to B&H Hardware store, down at the end of Hanover Street. There was a small swampy area down the hill behind the store, and it gave us the perfect spot to practice a little bit of skating. One of the bigger kids would start shoveling the snow off the pond and the rest of us would sit right in the snow and numb our backsides while we laced up our skates. I don’t know if they still make skates that way, but there was something so satisfying about the precision of wrapping the long white cords left-right-left-right around the tiny metal hooks.
We didn’t know enough about hockey to play an actual game; besides, none of us had any equipment. We pretty much just chased each other around and made up our own games that really had no point other than to keep moving and have fun.
It was crowded on that little pond, and nearly impossible to build up any speed without sending someone else sailing into a snow bank or tree. On those rare occasions when one of us would really start flying, we’d usually hit a frozen stalk of something swampy sticking up through the ice, at which point we’d be launched unceremoniously into the air. Crash landings usually involved other kids going down like so many dominoess, and this would lead to bruise-inducing rounds of bowling with each other’s bodies as pins.
The more dramatic among us worried about falling through the ice and having to rescue each other like we had seen on TV. Of course, the water was less than a foot deep, so there was really no danger. The one time a little boy’s foot went through the ice, his big sister and I wailed and panicked so much that we never even noticed when he turned and squelched home alone in disgust.
As the afternoon waned, we’d all drift off toward our homes, eager to beat our parents home so we could lie about finishing homework and not leaving our own yards.
My favorite part of the day came when I’d peel off those wet, ice encrusted clothes. Sometimes even the long johns were soaked through all the way to my panties. I’d look at the blotchy pink and white skin on my thighs and clap my tingling hands together until the feeling came painfully back into my fingers, and I’d wonder vaguely about things like frostbite and whether or not there was any Swiss Miss in the cupboard. Then I’d put on my pajamas and bathrobe and wrap up in an afghan in front of the TV.
When Mom got home, she would lecture us about spending the day in our pajamas, doing nothing but watching TV. Now that I’m a mom, I realize that she must have known better; there were mounds of wet clothes and dirty ice skates and snowy boots all over the house. But if she had acknowledged the snow, she would have had to acknowledge the broken rules and hand out some kind of punishment. So she played dumb and I congratulated myself for fooling her.
My kids are lucky enough to have forty acres to play in, with waterproof snow pants and thermal-lined gloves. I watch the thermometer and the clock and yell at them to come in before they can get frostbite. I am home all day with them on their snow days, so they come in from the cold to hot cocoa and sometimes even fresh cookies or at the very least , a hot lunch. They have plenty of friends at school, but none within walking distance.
For the most part, they spend their snow days playing videogames or watching TV. I just wish they had to lie to me about it.
Does anybody else think our generation knew how to have more fun on snow days?