I am not a big fan of winter. Overall, I love the four seasons and the amazing changes that occur every three months, but the warmth and beauty of summer make it my favorite season while the cold and the snow combine to make winter my least favorite. In fact, like a big, old bear, I wouldn’t mind hibernating for the duration, especially once Thanksgiving and Christmas have passed. Fortunately, winter does offer one real pleasure, one surprising joy, a gift that periodically visits us and rewards us for our suffering. That gift is a special treasure that we experienced again at the beginning of this week — a snow day.
As a child, I can vividly remember listening to the radio in the morning and hearing those magical words for the first time: “St. Mary’s Institute is closed today.”
“Really? Seriously? I don’t have to go to school? Wow! That’s amazing!”
I don’t ever recall going back to sleep at that point. My parents and all six kids were awake and alive and excited. From the windows, we could see that some of the neighborhood kids were already outside playing, so as quickly as we could, we joined them: building snowmen and forts, throwing snowballs, and playing tackle football in our still unplowed street. Later, every pile of snow created by the plow became another mountain for “King of the Hill,” a game I was not particularly good at, but one I played nonetheless because even being thrown down the hill by the king was painless, a tumbling experience like no other, as if playing on a cloud.
By the time high-school rolled around, one might think we’d have grown tired of the snow-day thrill, but that was not the case. Again, we were always all keyed up by the anticipation and the excitement of a day off from school. We were no longer excited enough to build snowmen, but we typically had another activity in mind: basketball.
Our high-school athletic director and coach usually would go to school that day anyway to work in his office, so he’d let his nephews and their friends come in to play full-court games in the warmth of the gymnasium. Thus, once we got that news over the telephone, we put on our jackets, our boots, our hats, and our gloves and walked in the snow approximately two miles, so we could play pick-up games. Thanks, Coach.
And if for some reason, the Bishop Scully gym was not available, we would play basketball outside in someone’s driveway. By my sophomore year, our family had one of the better courts in the neighborhood, but my dad had a firm rule: we could not shovel off the surface of the court until we had shoveled the rest of the driveway first.
Not until college did I begin to appreciate the beauty of rolling over and going back to sleep. By then, I was living in a dormitory, and no one expected me to do any shoveling. Snoring was my more likely activity. I’d like to say that I also used that day off from classes to catch up on my studying or my research papers, but I did not. Instead, I’d find my way to the gym to play basketball again, or I’d wander over to the library and read old issues of Sports Illustrated. In my immature mind, academic pursuits were not allowed on an official snow day.
After graduation I became a high-school English teacher because I love literature, and I love working with young people. Looking back, however, I wonder what portion of my career decision was based on the possibility of snow days? Did I unconsciously choose teaching because I needed those sudden sabbaticals that were still sweet surprises in the midst of our sometimes severe storms? I think I probably did. During my decade of teaching at the high-school level, I was always as excited as my students by the prospect of a snow day, and I am not ashamed to admit that I sometimes wore my pajamas inside out the night before to superstitiously add inches of snow to the storm and increase the likelihood of having the day off.
Perhaps the darkest portion of my career was the subsequent decade when I worked in private industry as a writer, editor, and proofreader. When I discovered I still had to go to work on snow days, I was devastated. I couldn’t believe my misfortune. I don’t know how I survived during that time, and I can only now fully appreciate all of those people, those truly “essential” employees, who worked entire careers without a snow day. They had to get up early to shovel the driveway, then face the traffic on the slow and slippery roads, arrive late at work, and still put in a full eight hours or more only to battle their way back home later to shovel the driveway all over again. Those of you who did that for a full 40 years definitely deserve a medal of honor.
Fortunately, 20 years ago, I returned to teaching, at the community-college level this time, and my snow days have returned as well. I no longer have to listen to the radio for the news, though, because the SUNY system sends me three simultaneous notifications: a voice mail, an email, and a text message. Life is so good. Sure, I still have to clear off the driveway, but I finally invested in a snow blower a few years back, so playing with that big toy is a lot like finally being king of the hill.
No, I will never fully enjoy winter. Sure, I love to look at the snow glistening on the trees on a sunny morning, but I want to do so from the comfort of my warm home on the greatest winter day of all — a snow day!