Once Upon A Time Magic Was Literally In The Air

My childhood days unfolded in a remarkable manner. They were as simple as a hammer. My family and I were, in a way, cut off from civilization. Woods surrounded our home out in the country, and we had a rudimentary phone: a party line that rarely rang.

The Information Age had yet to materialize and in those uncomplicated days, we had no Weather Channel to tell us days in advance that snow was coming. It either came or it didn’t, and most of time, living in eastern Georgia and far from the mountains as we did, it didn’t. But when it did, well, it provided joy like no other weather can.

Magical mornings. My parents would wake me up. “Look out the window.”

There it was! A winter wonderland rare and sublime. There it was, that crystalline miracle, snow. Gold dust might as well have fallen during the night. Adrenalin surged through me. Mere sleeping had transported me to the land of the midnight sun and ice and snow. An altogether new architecture redefined all that was familiar into white lines and soft, glistening curves. It was as if a milky species of kudzu had carpeted the county.

Soon my sisters and I were marring the perfect surface with our tracks. (I always hated making tracks on that smooth, crystalline surface. I was ruining the only perfect thing I’d known. But out the door we went.)

On those rare, snow-blanketed mornings I awakened first, I could tell something was different. The world seemed muted, and a strange, soft silence muffled morning. A distant car seemed to slush down the Augusta Highway. And then I’d notice that the light seeping around the blinds and curtains seemed bluish. Peeking through the window jolted me. Snow had softly fallen throughout the night.

Memories of childhood snows live within me still. Rare happenings rarely fade. Those snows of childhood held magic. Few things rival the spellbinding beauty of quarter-sized flakes tumbling through the air. Mesmerized by their fall, I knew that nothing but good could come from flakes like that. No school. A snowman. A friendly snowball fight. Snow ice cream! Just skim a layer off the car roof into a bowl, mix in sugar, vanilla extract, and milk and, voilà, ice cream!

Freshly fallen snow meant a chance to walk through muffled wintry woods that seemed more like Vermont to me, though I had never been to Vermont. But there with the boughs crusted white, limbs sporting a meringue of white and creaking a bit and the ground softly cloudlike, the woods behind home seemed Vermont-like. As I walked through the trees, my boots crunched and squeaked, a deafening noise in that muffled winter wonderland.

Suddenly the creatures of the woods revealed themselves in a way like no other. Tracks galore. Dad and I once tracked a rabbit down until we found it sitting as still as stone, melding into a patch of brown leaves so perfectly seeing it came as a total shock. Raccoon tracks and birds of all types did their part to stencil wintry wildlife patterns onto the snow. A snowfall reveals evidence of the denizens of woods and fields like no other time. It’s a powdery lab where biology refuses to be ignored.

A snowfall made for a time of adventurous survival too. Those rare days of childhood snow sometimes knocked out the power. That meant tomato soup warmed over gas space heaters, wet clothes, and freezing hands and toes. And even that misery held its own peculiar brand of joy.

All those magical winter moments live in a place called recollection. To this day, snow unleashes a medley of memorable experiences in childhood and the remarkable thing is those memories retain their magic forever. As I write, I see a nine-year-old boy, Tommy, donning a cheap parka and gloves. Soon his fingers will burn from snow’s icy flames, but he won’t care.

My Dad, as many dads did in the ’50s, bought a Bell & Howell 8 millimeter camera and made home movies. To this day, I can see the snowfall he captured on film; I want to say it’s the winter or late spring of 1958. I do believe it’s April. Our dog, Duke, romps in the snow. Mom holds up a handmade sign giving the date and I believe the snow’s depth of eight inches. The film jerks and swings wildly. Suddenly someone else is filming and my father runs into the camera: red from the cold, his heavy 5 o’clock shadow evident. Closer he comes, his face near the lens. Mom always said that shot made him look like an escaped convict. He was but 32 years old. He was a boy playing in the snow. Snow made children of us Southerners. That’s its true beauty.

Snow today? It means a hassle for those who drive to work. Over here in the city, as traffic snarls and fender benders break out like some metallic rash, area body shop owners anticipate a windfall of sorts.

Well before the snow arrives (it usually doesn’t), schools start giving notice that there’ll be a three-hour delay the next morning or even better to the kids, no school at all. But generally all that happens is a huge front of disappointment moves through. You could say a depression moves in ’cause every kid’s spirit plummets when snow fails to materialize.

It’s just a fact of life. Southern weathermen today are no good at predicting snow. Whenever a weatherman says it’s a certainty snow is coming, I know it’s not. But that doesn’t stop people from making a run on bread, milk, and soup at all the grocery stores. As soon as weathermen, those new celebrities born of clouds and climate, predict snow, people rise up like a horde of locusts and strip the shelves bare.

I can’t speak for you, but I much prefer the old days when a blanket of snow, thin though it may be, caught us by surprise. You wake up and there it is covering the land like an unanticipated veneer of confectioner’s sugar.

The allure of the exotic and the magic of discovery I guess is where the joy of snow came from in my youth.

Things changed, sadly. Now it’s unwise to eat snow ice cream. The air is filled with toxic particles, pollution, and other particulates that put snow ice cream on the “do not eat” list. Thanks progress. And driving in the snow amounts to a demolition derby down here where it doesn’t snow enough to justify snow plows. When it does snow, some northern transplants like to make fun of us, both our unbridled glee and our traffic troubles. “My Gawd, it’s just a little snow.” (Perhaps some of you recall the July 1995 heat wave that struck up North. In Chicago, 525 people died. “My God, it was just a little heat.” Of course I write that tongue in cheek. Well, not really.)

So, here we are deep into January with the coldest month of all, February, yet to come. Is there a chance we’ll have a record snow like the one that hit in 1973? I don’t know and I am doubly sure weather forecasters don’t know. Here’s hoping the so-called weathermen get it right just once this winter. Give the kids some snow, but do us a favor. Don’t predict snow. If you and your leaned ways and satellites know for sure snow is coming, don’t forecast it. Let a new generation of children experience the magic of a surprise Southern snowfall.

For your children’s’ sake, I hope they go to bed one night soon dreading a test at school the next day. And then throughout the night, here they come: fluffy alabaster flakes tumbling onto Georgia earth, a soft whispering accompanying their fall. Early the next morning, the world seems bluish and quiet.

And then dad or mom or both come into the bedroom. “Look out the window.”

A day of magic, one the kids remember the rest of their live, is about to unfold.

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Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of fourteen books, 550 columns, and more than 1,200 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II, and South Carolina Country Roads. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground.

He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks to groups across South Carolina and Georgia. He’s the editor of Shrimp, Collards & Grits, a Lowcountry lifestyle magazine.
Governor McMaster conferred the Order of the Palmetto upon him October 26, 2018 for his impact upon South Carolina through his books and writing because “his work is exceptional to the state.”

Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He grew up in Lincolnton, Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina.

Visit Tom's website at www.tompoland.net. Email him at [email protected].

4 Comments
  1. Tom nothing more to say than been there done that. Thanks again for jolting the brain cells.

  2. Walterboro, SC, 1943 ~ “Look out the window.” Thanks for the memories! . . . .again.

  3. Frank Povah

    Tom – once more, beautifully done. Childhood and the magic of everyday life.
    I am thinking of raising an army of guerilla writers to combat the weather people whose main function in life seems to be to sensationalize what is already wonderful and to scare little old ladies. Our local guru is running out of banner headlines to publicize his reports. Having exhausted record snows, wind-chill factors, black ice, dangerous freeways, winds gusting to 30 mph and arctic blasts, he has been reduced to warning us about lethal low overnight temperatures.
    They are eejits of the first water.

  4. That rare, quiet, deep snow was such friendly weather.

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