Unprompted: Living With the Mystery of Snow 

When a historic snow slammed us in the ’50s, nobody knew it was coming, how long it would last or how bad it would be.

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There was a time when we didn’t know if it was going to snow. One of the pleasures of being old, and there are some, is recalling when a big snow was a mystery that came to us without advance warning.

Unlike other weather systems, snow is quiet. It makes no noise. It may come in the night when we’re asleep and we don’t know about it until morning. And then there’s little to do except enjoy it, if we can. Life stops, and we hope for nothing worse than that.

The scene in my memory is a hillside hamlet in east Tennessee. Gene is a child living with his family, mostly oblivious to anything elsewhere. We have no television. A couple of radio stations in nearby towns are of little help. The only real communication is by a ham radio operator who lives up the street, and while he can get information from elsewhere he has no means to share it with the rest of us. The Bristol Herald Courier will be delivered the next day, possibly. I know because I delivered it. But a newspaper is after the fact when news is knocking at the door, or piling up on the roof.

It’s difficult talking to a generation that can’t imagine life without smartphones, or local news on television. But there was such a time, and some of us were there. We went about our lives in a vacuum of information.

Beyond that, or before, there were no satellites to look from the sky and issue warnings. We rose each morning to what was, and had no knowledge that a day would come when we would be warned in advance what to prepare for.

Did I mention there were no four-wheel drive vehicles? No I didn’t but that was part of it. It didn’t matter because nobody was going anywhere. There was nowhere to go and no way to get there. Unless you had a horse.

When a historic snow slammed us in the ’50s, nobody knew it was coming, how long it would last, how bad it would be, or heaven forbid, what would happen if someone got hurt or really sick. The nearest hospital was in Bristol, miles away, but no one could get there if they wanted to. I think that’s one reason the residents of Bluff City, most of them, were deeply religious. They prayed a lot, because there was nothing else they could do. We used to say prayer changes things, but that was just a saying. It really didn’t.

Morning revealed a blanket of snow, by that time at least a foot deep, and it was still falling. We kids found great excitement in the event. Those of us who had sleds used them. Those who didn’t found sheets of cardboard to slide on. Bluff City had lots of hills. When night came the whole town went to a really big hill above the high school where a bonfire warmed us while we slid down the really big hill guided by small fires along the way, which had been carefully built to provide safety. When it was over we retreated to our homes where thoughtful moms such as mine had hot chocolate ready. It was quite a day. And it was still snowing.

The next day the snow stopped. We tried to relive the day before, but the fun had started to fade. The first day of a big snow, predicted or otherwise, is always exciting. But sooner or later we have to get back to work, and that delightful snow turns into a burden. Will it ever melt. I don’t care if I never see snow again. Yuck, what a mess. I’m so desperate I could go back to school.

A fun time can last only so long.

Snow is still an exciting thing, even when it doesn’t surprise us in the middle of the night. But knowing about it in advance is a cushy way of handling it. S

Gene Cox is an author and inventor who recently retired from a 35-year career as a television anchor in Richmond. Connect with him at letters@styleweekly.com, or on Twitter at genecoxrva.



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