I grew up in Vermont, mostly in the 1970s, long enough ago that the winters were longer and green Christmases were rare and the snowbanks were always over my head. Snow days then weren’t days when school was cancelled because that wasn’t very common. There we enough city snow plows and people with pickups with plows on the front looking to make a few extra bucks that snow rarely shut things down. Plus I knew that I had to go to school for 180 days each year, so a cancelled day in the winter only meant one less day of summer vacation.
Snow days were those weekends or days during school breaks when a storm dumped so much snow that you could barely make it from the front steps to the sidewalk to the street. Until I was old enough that shoveling became compulsory, a big storm meant my sisters and I put on our snow pants and snowmobile boots and our winter jackets, mittens, hats, scarves, and spent the day in the snow. My father would shovel off the front walk, then the sidewalk, extending left and right to our property line, and if he needed to drive somewhere he cleared the driveway. All that snow had to go somewhere, and somewhere was either on our tiny front lawn or on the strip between the sidewalk and the street. That’s where we dug out caves and tunnels, aware that it could be dangerous — we all knew stories of children who had to be pulled by their exposed legs out of snowbanks — but we did it every year until we were too big, physically or emotionally.
Snow was on the ground for months and we lived with it and everything went on a usual because when you live in a place that has regular adversity you just deal with it and go on. In that way Vermonters are like residents of New York City.
I went to college in Vermont so I don’t remember any days of classes being cancelled due to snow. My main snow memory is of the first really big storm my first year. We all went outside and made snowmen, and snowballs that we threw at residents of the next dorm, and carried on like the kids we thought we no longer were. Then we heard a rumor that the students from East Campus and Redstone Campus were heading to us on Main Campus to have a snowball fight and we started furiously making snowballs and talking about how we were going to be ready.
We heard them before we saw them, heard them well before they appeared at the top of the hill, before they started down the hill yelling and throwing snowballs and quickly overwhelming us. In our excitement, our hubris, we had forgotten or maybe not known that East Campus had at least twice as many students and Redstone at least three or four times as many and it was never going to be a fight. And it didn’t matter at all. It was great.
In my early working career in the early 90s in New York, I don’t remember any snow days. Maybe there weren’t any because the train always runs and I never lived anywhere that I had to depend on a car or bus. Then I moved to Atlanta for a while and there was at least one snow day in which a dusting shut down traffic on the Connector and brought the city to a stop. I worked with a number of Yankees and we all laughed the next day at the silly southerners and their fear of snow.
These days I’m back in New York and snow days are even rarer, partly because of global warming and partly because technology like laptops and remote access has made it possible to work even when you can’t leave the house (assuming you have WiFi). Plus, I still depend on the subways and, like I said, they rarely stop. And as much as I love the idea of a surprise off day, I don’t want a storm or a blackout or a flood or anything else that brings this place to a standstill. So there aren’t really any more snow days.
Still, the dream lives, the ideal. When I hear the forecast, and then the warnings, I start to get that feeling, that old hope. I start to dream of the perfect snow day, of a warm café where even if you could see out of the steamed windows it wouldn’t matter because the swirling snow has reduced the visibility to zero. There are warm drinks and there’s a good book and ever once in a while you look up and she looks up from her book and you smile at each other and it’s a perfect moment. Maybe one day.
Until then, my snow day is simple. It takes place when I get up and I look out the living room windows. The sun hasn’t risen. The world is white and I can’t see anyone or anything except a lone garbage truck temporarily losing the battle to keep the street clear of snow. I can’t see any footprints and the only sound besides the snowplow is the wind and I’m not thinking about how I’m going to get to work or what I’m going to wear. It’s only a minute, maybe not even a minute. That’s my snow day. For now.