Snow Days: A Recent Phenomenon

Maybe this is one of those “when I was young, we had it tough” stories. But when I was young, we didn’t have snow days. At least, I don’t remember my classes ever being canceled due to snow, nor for any weather-related events. It might have happened, but I don’t remember any such occasions. Hoping for bad weather so I could stay home was not part of my growing-up years.

My brother and me in Richland, when it would have been nice to have a snow day

My brother and me in Richland, when it would have been nice to have a snow day

We didn’t have a lot of snow in Richland, Washington, where I grew up, but most winters there were at least a few snowstorms. And we often had “black ice,” which those over driving age feared more than snow. I’ve written about my dad letting me drive his new Capri after one snowstorm—my choir practice was certainly not canceled that evening due to weather.

I remember walking to the bus stop during my high school years in the snow. Over unpaved paths, uphill . . . both ways. (Well, actually, my route was fairly flat, but it was mostly unpaved, cobbled with large river rocks uncovered when a bulldozer cut a path through what would become the rest of Sierra Street some twenty years later.)

Some school days I’d worn tennis shoes in the morning, and was surprised to find snow when I left school in the afternoon. I still had to walk home from the bus stop. There were no cell phones to call my mother to pick me up. If we didn’t have prior plans for her to pick me up at school, I walked.

Far worse than snow in Richland was the wind. I had less trouble walking home in wet, icy shoes than I did in a 40-mph windstorm. On those afternoons, wind gusts blew me back a step as I trudged west up the unpaved portion of Sierra Street.

I went to college in Middlebury, Vermont. Vermont has a lot of snow. But classes didn’t get canceled there either. I slipped and slithered up and down the campus hills from my dorm to my classes. The grounds crew did a wonderful job of shoveling and salting, but of course college students made their own paths from building to building and didn’t stick to the cleared sidewalks and streets.

Middlebury in snow

Middlebury College in the snow, before the students made paths across the commons

Most years at Middlebury, I lived in dorms without dining halls, so I had to bundle up to get to breakfast before my 8:00am classes. Not fun. Many students slept through breakfast on snowy mornings (and other mornings as well), but not me. I couldn’t last until lunch time without sustenance.

Then I had three years at Stanford. It only snowed once that I can recall in those three years. No need for snow days in Palo Alto, California.

Snow days didn’t become a factor in my life until my kids were young in Kansas City. I was fortunate that my children’s day care almost always stated open, despite the snow. Although their grade school closed due to snow a few days every year, the day care portion of the school stayed open. My kids were in the extended day program at the school, so I could still take them. They went, whether they wanted to stay home or not.

I only remember one day ever that the day care center called to ask me to come get my kids. It had already snowed six inches or so, and big fat flakes were still falling heavily around 4:00pm. I got on the freeway downtown with every other commuter in the city, inched my way over a bridge to the Northland where we lived, and made it to my kids’ school about the time we usually picked them up. What was usually a fifteen or twenty minute drive took me close to an hour.

The next day was a snow day for the school, but the day care center was open.

It wasn’t until my children were in high school that snow days became important for our daily planning. As were “late start” days—which was their schools’ nod at inclement weather that might delay students’ transportation plans but wasn’t bad enough to cancel classes. My kids and I watched the television on evenings when it snowed, hoping that school closings would be announced before bedtime. If not, we had the television on at 6:00am, my children still hoping for the good news of a day at home.

Of course, my husband and I had to go to work, no matter what the kids did.

It took several years after my youngest graduated from high school before I quit watching the school closings list on TV. Snow days no longer matter to me now—I can declare my own snow days, when I refuse to drive. I try not to, because I know I’m just being cowardly. But it’s not me I worry about, it’s the other idiots on the road. If I don’t have to deal with them, why should I?

What do you remember about snow days?

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0 Comments

  1. Okay, T. You’re about to start me on a rant about when I was a kid and we had to trudge across fields and through drifts to get to our one-room schoolhouse. Seriously. Just about lost my little sister one morning in a drift.

    I did go out this morning and start the car and clean off the ice and snow so Cliff could get to a 9 a.m. class, but that’ll be the extent of my outside adventures today.

    • Janet,
      I’ll agree you had it rougher than I did. My walk to the bus stop, though unpaved, did not have drifts.
      But I’ll up you one on cleaning off the car — I’ve done the shoveling at our house for the last two storms.
      Stay warm,
      Theresa

  2. I love the photo of you and your brother, Theresa. Snow days always felt magical to me. I remember playing outside until we were soaked and then coming inside for hot soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Then we’d go back out and do it again. 🙂

  3. When I lived in town until I was ten, I walked a mile to and from school. There were never any snow days. I do recall one day when a sudden storm downed power lines and then a deep snow fell. On the way home a lady stood outside her home to warn the school children not to go near the downed power line sparking in the street.

    In about 1956 when I was fourteen, we had an overnight twenty-six inch surprise snowstorm. We owned a motel with no restaurant on the outskirts of town. My dad took a truck, plowed through to a grocery store in town, and was able to buy a pick-up load of groceries. All the motel guests came to our big home on the motel grounds for two days of game playing and eating before snow plows drove the 90 miles from Kansas City to open the highways. All of this occurred two days after Christmas so we didn’t get any snow days off on that occasion either.

  4. From what I can tell of early Kansas history, there wasn’t such a thing as an official snow day (how could there be before telephones and televisions and the internet), but there was a certain level of common sense. If there was a blizzard, you didn’t send your kids to school. If the land was flooding, you didn’t send your kid to school. If I remember right, David Laskin’s book The Children’s Blizzard mentions that no one did much of anything for weeks until the day it warmed up (which turned out to be a horrible mistake, since a fast-moving blizzard moved in as the kids were leaving school that afternoon).

    When I was in school in Kansas City, Kansas (#USD 500) in the 1990s, the school made their decisions based on, of all things, whether or not the buses would start. Not the snow, not the ice, not the windchill, but the buses. I remember many miserable days when I risked death walking up an icy hill (in the street, because we didn’t have sidewalks) to wait at a bus stop in -15 degree weather for a bus that was 25 minutes late because it couldn’t maneuver through the snow and ice on the road at anything more than a crawl. Then we spent the ride in to school on a bus with no seat belts, praying we didn’t slide off the road.

    We haven’t had the kind of weather this winter to merit snow days so far this year in Ottawa, but I do think that more schools are considering the liability of having kids walking to school or riding buses during conditions most adults would have the common sense to avoid if possible. In our rural areas, the common sense rules still apply, too. It’s just understood that the kids on the county roads aren’t going to make it to class when there is two feet of snow on the gravel after the town roads are cleared or when a heavy rain floods the low-water crossings and it’s not safe to drive through.

    Now we just need non-emergency places to get better at recognizing whether or not it’s worth being open during really bad weather. It was different back in the day when people lived close to work–sometimes in the apartment above the store–to open up a business in case someone straggled in. But so many people commute long distances these days, and all of those people on icy roads is such a risk.

  5. I grew up in the North Island of New Zealand. When I was about ten it snowed on the distant hills. Oh the excitement! We drove for twenty or thirty miles to play in it. I still get a thrill when I see snow. Once it snowed on our tent in the middle of summer when we were camping in the mountains. Where we live now we get a snowfall every few years. It mostly melts within a day so isn’t a problem for most people. Even though I’m in my sixties I have been known to run around in the falling snow with the grandchildren. I’m fascinated by your stories of snow and its dangers.

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