Snow days in the South

by Mark Smith, Jr.


Rarer than a convenience store with a clean bathroom and more coveted than gold, the Southern snow day is that elusive state of childhood nirvana that no one ever really grows out of.


Whether it comes as an ice storm, frozen precipitation, sleet mixed with rain, wintry mix, rain turning to snow, flurries with occasional pockets of accumulation or plain old snow, when it happens here, it is a really big deal. It starts with a please-don’t-panic forecast from the Atlanta TV stations and is immediately followed by panic. And then a stampede rush to the stores for milk and bread. We can’t help it, it’s tradition. If you do not like it... Well, you know the rest.


The quintessential moment in any snow day is when school is officially declared closed and a collective, joyful outburst of kids resonates throughout the community. Sometimes, this official proclamation is made the evening before, other times it comes at five in the morning. Either way, the excitement has already been put into motion. Like on Christmas Eve, any kid will struggle to sleep as the anticipation of what the next day brings trumps any notion of rest.


The exact order in which the snow days’ events will transpire varies little from house to house. Because we all know that any accumulation is fleeting, time is of the utmost essence. Mom or dad will measure the depth of snow with a ruler, either by placing it on the roof of the car or the back patio. This ritual will serve as the official record of “inches at our house” for family documents and all future recollections of the snow day of (fill in the year). While one of the parents is measuring the snow, anyone under the age of 12 is trying to get out of the house with as little clothing on as possible. The other parent is stopping them at the door and insisting that they wear pants.


Once a level of proper clothing is met, the kids are then allowed outside where they will immediately make snow balls and smack each other in the face with them. Somebody will get hit in the ear and start to cry. It is also during this early morning part of the snow day ritual that someone in the family will think it is a good idea to see what the dog or cat thinks about the frozen white stuff. The pet part is seldom as much fun as it sounds at the time.

Making snowballs is followed with building a snowman. It is only when we get the really good snow that rolls up nice and round that can we make proper snow folk. It is, more often than not, the icy pellets that we get here. They must be crushed together to form cinder blocks of ice in order to make southern snow sculptures. It is not because our kids aren’t talented, but most of our snowmen wind up looking like little pyramids about the size of fire hydrants. We do the best we can with what we got.


Following the snowman building comes finding something to use as a sled. Older kids who have seen snow before may skip the snowballs and snowman level and advance straight to this level. It is the finding-something-to-make-a-sled-out-of part of a snow day that is most expressive of our Southern resolve. It is not practical to own real sleds or snow saucers here in the south. Besides, no local store even offers them. It is up to the individual to find the suitable vessel for projecting their bodies down snow covered hills at accelerated speeds. This often includes, but is not limited to, the use of trash can lids, fast food trays, cardboard boxes, water skis, laundry baskets, door mats, kayaks, and (I saw this last week ) a cat litter box.


A quick raid of Dad’s garage usually produces an adequate homemade toboggan and then, without any type of prompting, group text or snap chat, every kid instinctively knows to migrate to the steepest hill in town. There they will be joined by every other kid in town for what will become the pinnacle of snow day bliss, also known as sliding down a hill and crashing into stuff.


At some point, injury, hunger or destroyed sleds will bring the weary bobsledders back to the house where they will shed wet clothes at the back door and come in to warm up to tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Afterwards, knowing that the sun is working against them, refreshed and refueled, they will immediately return to Olympus and continue until every bit of snow has melted and they are sliding on wet grass.


The sun goes down, the next day school will resume and life goes back to normal. But, stories of the greatest day of the year will be shared on the bus for weeks to come.


Mark Smith Jr., 1965 – 2019, was the Executive Editor of Lakelife magazine and a Vice President of Smith Communications, Inc. The winner of the 2018 Joe Parham Trophy, 1st Place for Humor Column in the Georgia Press Association, Mark’s humor columns appeared in each edition of Lakelife in 2019 and were popular with our readers. This is one he wrote after a snowfall in Lake Country in January 2018.