You’d overhear one kid telling another kid, maybe during lunch or maybe in the gym during recess or maybe while waiting in line in the hall.
And you’d jerk your head to listen and stop dead in your tracks if you were making any. You stood riveted.
You had just heard the magic word: snow.
The word would spread like wildfire in school here in the hometown back in the day.
Just on hearsay, whether the forecast was genuine or not, kids like me would hear the magic word and start planning things like whether to make a snowman or a fort, where we were going to slide or sled and what tests or homework would be postponed. Teachers did their best to keep us composed.
A former editor of “The Tribune,” Bill Watson, who was from up North, quizzically asked me one time what was it with Southerners and snow.
I didn’t know how to answer. Finally I just told him, “We know a good holiday when we see it.” Watson chuckled.
We get snow so infrequently that when it does come it ought to be a holiday. When we do get a good snow we want to go and play. It may be our only chance for the year.
I hear folks up in the far North who get only a few weeks of summertime weather in July feel similarly about the warmth.
Advanced weather forecasting these days gives us so much advance warning that there’s not much fun anticipating snow any more.
It’s going to snow Thursday? It’ll start at 2 p.m.? OK, I’ll reschedule my afternoon appointments and make a mental note to stop by for milk and bread Wednesday on the way home from work. ‘Cause I don’t want to fight the crowds Thursday, and be sure to get up some work then to take home.
But way back in the days before 24-hour cable TV weather forecasting, word of a coming snow was more mysterious.
Details would be sketchy. You might hear snow was coming, somebody had heard it from somebody else, and who knows how they knew.
And you didn’t know for certain just when the snow would arrive. It never got here quick enough.
The anticipation was electric. You’d scan the skies and debate whether the thick clouds were hanging low enough yet. And when the first flakes finally started falling, the effect was magical.
After a good, hot rumor started circulating around school, by the time of the afternoon bus ride home we kids would be in a tizzy. Those bus rides were deafening.
If the teachers believed the rumor, they might remind us to tune to the radio station that would announce the next morning whether school was cancelled.
But we couldn’t wait. We’d checked the 6 o’clock TV news on one of the handful of broadcast stations we had available back then. But the grandfatherly weatherman who probably had no kids in school would not answer the most important question of the moment: would school get cancelled.
Back then in those simpler, less technical times the local TV weathermen (they were all men) would have something like a whiteboard, and they’d take a marker and draw lines symbolizing cold fronts and mark low pressures with an L within a circle.
It was all gobbledygook to a kid, so we’d watch prime time TV late into the evening past our bedtimes with the anticipation of getting to sleep in the next morning.
Then came morning, and Mom would nonchalantly wake me up. I’d mumble something about why are you waking me up. Then she’d say the words that would make my blood run cold: no snow.
I’d look out the window, and I might see snow in the distance up on Little Mountain but nothing but brown grass in the yard.
After the shock wore off I’d grudgingly get dressed and go though the school-morning routine.
Crossing the yard and toward the road and the bus stop I’d stare a hole in the mountains and the snow that topped them. Why no snow here? The snow is so close.
The gloom would hang as heavy over the class that morning as it would in the skies. We kids would all sit sullenly and think the same thing: Why no snow? We came so close. We’re never going to get any snow.
The teacher silently would smirk.
These days, TV will blast notice of snow so frequently and so far in advance that you lose interest. You can call up a picture of the radar on your phone, get tweets from Boone or Wilkesboro that the snow’s started there, and schools and businesses will start closing and cancelling before the white stuff’s even gotten here.
The process is all so scientific, so unmagical. There’s no excitement, no anticipation. People hardly look up to the skies anymore.
Wait! Is that a flake I saw? Oh, goody.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.