Snowfall meant many things to our parents: shovel the walkway, put the chains on. To them, concern for the thousand things that can happen to a home under a load of ice.
And perhaps most sobering of all, they had to put up with us for a day or more.
But it didn’t suck all the time for the folks.
One of my treasured photos of my mother was taken at Snoqualmie Pass in 1966. There she is, hair up in a scarf, clad in black boots, wearing blue jeans and a pink sweatshirt, peering through cat eye glasses at my father wielding the Brownie. She’s got an innertube on her shoulder. She is smiling. I imagine she had just extricated herself from an uproarious pile up.
To us kids, however, as yet unburdened by adult responsibilities, there was no downside. Snow meant unalloyed, unadulterated fun. This being the Pacific Northwest, snow was never a sure thing.
But in those wondrous years and nights out of lore, when the thick flakes actually fell in abundance, you can bet the four Whale boys would have been up all night, listening to the radio, ears greedy for KASY, KOL or KJR to disgorge the all-important tidings — school or no school.
If school was a no-go that day, we would make a sweep over the suddenly white landscape in our minds, surveying its contours and forming plans for what we would do in the morning. And when morning finally came, after the briefest meeting with the mom-mandated thick socks and sturdy boots and clothes, we were ready.
We were a creative lot, fashioning fun out of ordinary bits of terra firma. A steep hill is not much to look at when the sun is blazing, but when it’s morphed into its winter variant, it becomes a magical surface on which to re-enact time and again our homely renditions of that timeless classic, the Butt-Scootin’ Boogie.
Give kids an icy driveway and they’ll be at it all day, seemingly never tiring, though keeping a watch for approaching cars.
I recall a few times when the street in front of the house magicked into a hockey rink.
We built forts on the playground of North Auburn Elementary, and factions sprang into being to inhabit those bastions for the sole purpose of hurling snowballs at each other. The mamas of the old neighborhood birthed a lot of kids with studly arms, and let me tell you, those guys knew how to hurl icy beauties, at high speeds and with laser precision. To this day, I believe the right side of my face is still numb from the impact of one particular Craig Cogger ice ball.
Many of the kids who took part in all the fun just wandered in from other neighborhoods, but they were welcome.
In some locales, the days of school cancellations may be a thing of the past, given the capability school districts now have to provide remote learning.
Will there be a lot of future days off around here owing to snow? I put the question to Vicki Alonzo, the Auburn School District’s Public Information Officer.
“Great question, and the answer is no, unless there are extraordinary circumstances,” said Alonzo. “Our elementary students do not take home technology. They have devices for use at school. Lots of families do not have internet access, so it is not an easy pivot to help them access the internet for a short term.
“Distance learning was the best we could do during COVID, but in-person learning is our preferred instructional model. We will make up the days should snow days become necessary. Also, we want kids to be able to be kids and have fun on snow days. We don’t get them very often,” Alonzo said.
I know of a Middle English poem that praises the glories of approaching summer that begins, “summer is icumen in.” The American poet Ezra Pound countered this summer optimism with a cranky piece about winter in his “Ancient Music.”
I have always disagreed with Mr. Pound there. Winter is a magical time when you’re a kid and many happy memories gather around it. I think the Little Gidding section of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets catches the mood much better.
“Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart’s heat.”
Robert Whale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.