“Holy holiday on ice, Batman,” exclaimed 9-year old David Hardiman, upon hearing the jolliest words of the holiday season. It was 6:30 in the morning and I’d waited breathlessly in paralytic anticipation next to the radio for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably about the time it takes for a snowflake to fall lazily to earth. This unexpected Snow Day electrified my body with ripples of sheer joy, causing me to shimmy down the hallway in a funky celebratory gyration – like the way Steph Curry does after swishing a spectacular trey.
Ode to Joy for this Snow Day – Well at Least Owed to Somebody I Suppose
For my snow day good fortune I felt a great debt of gratitude to somebody or something. This bonus day, this meteorological windfall, this unexpected gift of the Magi was way better than frankincense, myrrh or gold. It was the pinnacle of pre-pubescent happiness. And when I think of the small world I inhabited in the early 1970’s, I’m surprised I even fit into it. But fit I did, and some experiences were tailor made for me. Case in point: a sweet and dearly unearned school “snow day” – or as we called them back in the days of the Ice Capades, a “Holiday on Ice.”
When those cheery words “All Syracuse public schools are closed” were broadcast over the airwaves from on high, all public school pupils were elated, and all the pupils’ pupils were dilated. This eye-opening experience allowed us to see our way clear to a sensuous morning of deep, cozy hibernation nestled in our beds, followed by a strenuous afternoon of deep, snowy celebration sledding with our friends.
As it was, we were already knee-deep in juvenile joy because the brawny forces of nature had defeated the bureaucratic powers of mandatory school attendance. Truant officers would have to find someone else to hassle today, because when afternoon came we’d be chest deep in snow drifts – and that’s no drift. I mean, and that snow drift was huge.
In my little 9-year-old way I realized that when mounds of the white stuff triggered a school closing, it was a kind of “white privilege” that everyone could share in equally. Snow: the equal opportunity precipitate.
My early Christmas present was given me by WNDR’s “Dandy” Dan Leonard – 1260 AM on your radio dial. His unctuous radio inflections are imprinted on me like a tattoo I can’t remove. The larger point however, was that there’d be no school on this fiercely-snowing, traffic-snarling Tuesday in the arctic tundra masquerading as the city of Syracuse, NY, and I couldn’t have been any happier if Marcia Brady had asked me to a sleepover.
Genesis of a Snow Day – Little David’s Holiday on Ice
Tuesday, December 15th 1970 was a dark and snow stormy morning (the sun hadn’t risen yet). In fact, Syracuse had been blanketed in the white stuff since Monday night. Some said it was a real Nor’easter. But it was neither a Nor’easter nor a Nor’wester. It was unrelenting and prodigious lake effect snow – so named because the relative warmth of Lake Ontario combined with the polar frigidity of a Canadian arctic wind blowing south over it, produced disabling accumulations of snow – enough snow to flock every tree in North America. And this was a major storm – the mother of all flockers. I was all atwitter waiting for the monumental announcement on whether school was a “go” or “no go.” We wondered whether the weather would worsen…we weally did.
The possibility of a snow-day elicited febrile, anticipatory delight in my adolescent body. And once school was officially cancelled, I was thrust into a kind of shimmering promised land, where wide-eyed school children milled about serenely and mouthed these sweet words in repetitive slack-jawed wonderment, “I didn’t think life could ever be this good. I didn’t think life could ever be this good.”
Happy, happy, joy, joy. Hallelujah, a snow day was heaven on Earth – especially for a 9-year old whose romantic notions of what it meant to be alive on the planet were filled with the gracious and caring imagery of benevolent forces all pulling at the same oar to bring this ship into a kind of juvenile Utopian port.
My maturity level for a 9-year-old was off the charts. Even at that tender age, I could eat any sandwich without the crust being trimmed-off. I was no candy-ass kid either. Heck, I was showering already. No more baths for this budding Adonis (positive self-imagery is generally a good thing unless it’s carried too far). I could sleep with the light off going on 3 years and even though I was the youngest in the family, I had earned enough “family room cred” whereby if we needed to change the TV channel, it wasn’t always me who had to do it – put that in your Tang and drink it.
But what was to be done about this tsunami of snow? “Surely someone was in charge of it all,” thought innocent little David Hardiman (a friend of Cindy-Lou Who). A decision was taken by the scholastic pooh-bahs who benevolently superintended us defenseless students from inclement weather. These crudely qualified meteorological arbiters of snowstorm intensities deemed it wise that their charges should stay snug as a bug in a rug and shelter in place this frigid Tuesday morning. Their considered action transformed my anticipatory delight into kinetic joy and left me wondering; if this climate-driven holiday on ice could be bestowed upon me, what other magical gifts did the universe have in store for me? Some might say the issuance of a meager and necessary snow day is setting the bar pretty low for how wonderful the world can be, but as a youngster I learned to revel in the table scraps of God’s Kingdom.
Relief from parental insanity, galling predicaments and yet another season of Gunsmoke was where you could find it – and find it here I did. I also staked out a few other anesthetizing and inviolable places in my psyche. Places where never was heard a discouraging word, and the skies were not cloudy all day. Even at 9, life was not something to live, but something to manage and cope with. In later years I narrowed the gap.
So What. I Was 9 and Had an Active Imagination.
Being granted a snow day and having that time deposited in your personal daylight savings account to spend as you saw fit, was the opposite of that feeling adults get when they watch a bad movie or engage in some other time-wasting activity and grouse, “I wish I could have those 2 hours back.”
Well snow days were like having free time gifted to you – like the back doors of a Brink’s truck blew open and hours of somebody’s hard-earned time came flying out only to be scooped up greedily by me. And like the bad Samaritan that I was (timewise anyway), this time would not be returned to its rightful owner – not on my watch (or anybody’s watch). Instead I absconded with it back to my room and ran this ill-gotten time through my greedy little hands (the big hand and the little hand), all the while shouting, “I’m rich. I’m rich. It’s all mine – the minutes, the hours, everything.” And then I’d complete my temporal treachery by following it up with a trill of demented laughter.
Yes, this was free time I could fritter away with the applied precision that only a hyper-lucid 9-year old can bring to the enterprise. Note well, this event was big in my little world. How Big? Seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan Big! Getting the toy at the bottom of the cereal box Big! Pizza for dinner then going to see Herbie the Love Bug Big!
As the magnitude of a free day to spend as I saw fit sunk in, my world was perfumed with transcendent powers: the Frosted Flakes that frosty morning tasted twice as good. No, that’s not exactly true. The Frosted Flakes that morning were better than good…”They’re Gr-r-reat!” The “I Love Lucy” episode I watched from 9:00 to 9:30 was appreciated far more than Fred or Ethel could possibly have imagined, even if I did wonder how little Ricky went from a baby to age 4 in one season.
A snow day was such a splendid bonanza. It elicited new sensitivities, jubilant clarity and a renewed appreciation for the sheer joy of living. Who needs drugs or cartoons or grilled cheese sandwiches to appreciate life? I just needed a gifted snow day to reframe the issue and allow me to see into dimensions far beyond what a 9-year old can usually access.
BTW, there’s a far less powerful adult corollary to adolescent snow days, and that’s when you call into work sick and have that entire day to fuck off, sleep in, eat out and still get paid. Imagine that. It’s even better when you call-in the night before.
The Perfect Storm of a Perfect Storm
Perfect snow days don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen more or less in a snow globe. And on this day it would be a perfect storm inside if this perfect storm outside continued unabated, closing all Syracuse City Schools on Tuesday. Little things meant a lot in my cozy, circumscribed world, and snow days were manna from heaven. Nowadays it’s manna from Amazon. Suffice it to say: the euphoria bar is set pretty low when you’re a kid.
It was Monday night and that sinking feeling of facing a frozen Tuesday school day without having my homework done began to settle in. The major impediment to completing, or even starting my homework, was the inaugural year of Monday Night Football. If given a choice between MNF and labeling the parts of a seed, well you know who’s going to win that. But, if Tuesday was a snow day homework wouldn’t be due. And instead of that sinking feeling, I would float back to the top, where I’d surface to experience the rapture of a truncated school week, thereby bringing joy to little children everywhere. Well almost everywhere. There was that weirdo Judy Hendricks who preferred to be at school “learning” rather than home watching cartoons and eating Frosted Flakes. I mean who doesn’t love putting the bowl to your lips once you’ve finished the cereal to slurp down all that ultra-sweet milk after most of the frost from the flakes had dissolved into it?
By Monday night the “snow day” tumblers began falling into place. The bleak forecast called for another 8”-12” of snow and subzero temperatures. That would make the snow very deep and very crunchy. The Syracuse DPW (Department of Public Works) plows were stretched thin and certain outlier school districts had already thrown in the towel (thank you very much Fayetteville-Manlius School District – you wimps). Was FM a bellwether or a unicorn? We’d find out soon enough.
Meanwhile, we children of the corn (snow corn) had hoped for a preemptive announcement by the Syracuse City School District on Monday night declaring school would be closed on Tuesday. It was not to be, as concerned administrators well above my pay grade (which was everybody because a 9-year-old has no pay grade) deemed it wise to table a decision, pending a slackening of the storm and the ability of the DPW to ease the tightening noose of snow strangling the city. Don’t you admire the steady hand of leaders who are not alarmists? I mean just trudging home from Fiorello LaGuardia Elementary School that Monday in the blustery white-out was enough to make me think, “there’s no way there could be school tomorrow.” To my 9-year-old mind holding school would be upid-stay. As you can probably discern, I had taken a Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum crash course in Pig Latin and was quite fluent in the language.
A school snow day was an ecstatic wormhole to another dimension – a stitch in time where you could literally get back the 7 hours usually dedicated to uninspiring, but necessary schooling. In closing the schools, it seems the weather Gods had actually interceded on my behalf. So yeah, maybe there was a God after all and he did answer the prayers of public school heathens and not just the prayers of those tuition-paying toadies at Catholic schools who were shelling out big bucks just to have a seat at his table.
When “Dandy” Dan Leonard ran down the litany of school closings he’d often announce, “All parochial schools are closed.” This left my 9-year-old mind mystified as to what the hell a parochial school was – a school attended by parochials? Who were these non-public school parochials? Was there blood copper-based instead of iron-based? Did they have their own God, unavailable to us public school heretics? Well, they kinda did. I soon discovered parochial schools referred to Catholic schools of which there were an abundance in 1970.
It seemed like the parochial schools were closed at the drop of a flake (a snowflake and not a Frosted Flake). If there was even a light dusting of snow their sacramental doors were shuttered, whereas we herd of public school students had to stampede to school while fighting off drifts of predatory snow; if you catch my drift. And that’s no drift. I mean, and that snow drift was huge.
Obviously they were the chosen ones, and we were the frozen ones. I’d like to be cross with parochial students, but it seems redundant to be cross with Catholics. They’ve got enough crosses to bear.
Happy Beyond All Recognition
Curiously, this wintry, polar-izing event warmed my heart and set my adolescent imagination on fire. So many forces beyond my control were at work in the issuance of a Snow Day: Man vs Nature, Administrators vs Students and maybe even Brown vs Board of Education. But as a vassal student subject to the edicts of officials with lots of important letters before and after their names, all I could do was accept my fate.
The weather report was dire, but I wondered if it would be dire enough for the Syracuse Unified School District to cancel school, thereby reducing their cut of New York State education funding. Cancelling school wasn’t in their self-interest. I also wondered just how “unified” this school district was. Why were they so gung-ho about advertising their unity with this kum-bi-ya “unified” stuff. I didn’t really care. I just wanted the sweet release of a hardly earned day off. Hardly earned by dint of enough “lake effect” snow to clog arteries – arteries of transportation.
Snow Day Incantation (Prayer to the Abominable Snowman)
“Oh, inclement weather Gods I humbly beseech you to roar with ferocity when Syracuse school superintendent Dr. Edwin Weeks EdD renders his decision at 6:30 am. And may he and Mrs. Weeks have had a roaring evening before a roaring fire prior to rendering his epic decision thereby paving the way for his compassionate verdict: ‘Well Shnookums, I’m going to close it down. We won’t make the little tykes trudge to school today in this god awful blizzard. Maybe they won’t learn today, but we will. Now get over here Lilith and let’s continue our very social studies’.”
Tuesday Afternoon: A Snow Day in Action
Between the fervent prayers of children inside and abominable weather outside, it came to pass that Tuesday, December 15, 1970 was a snow day in the Syracuse Mostly Unified School District. And there was great rejoicing everywhere except in the Hendricks’ household. The adults had surrendered and the kids have won a resounding victory. After shimmying down the hall like Steph Curry, I turned around and made like an airplane with motorized lips in the other direction. Such childish antics. Although, truth be told, I did the same thing in 2014 at the age of 53 when the Giants won the World Series. The more things change, right?
And now the day belonged to us kids. It didn’t matter how much snow was on the ground (Syracuse averages about 10 feet of lake effect snow annually), we’d play in our winter wonderland until our coats and leggings were so caked with snow that our moms would have to sweep it off us outside in the garage with a broom before we were allowed back into our igloo. Otherwise we’d create huge puddles of melted snow in the den. Disney may be “The happiest place on Earth,” but Syracuse is probably “The snowiest place on Earth.”
We were in our snowy element completely lost in our frolic (sledding, fort-building, snowdrift-diving) and thinking only one thought; could Wednesday, December 16th please be a snow day too? Oh, heart be still. Two consecutive snow days – could life be that good?
In my time living in this snow globe, I’ve learned it’s good to “dance like no one’s watching,” but it’s better to “live life like every day is a snow day.” And that’s no day. I mean, and that snow day will bring you the simple joy of shimmying down the hall like a very content Banshee. Snow days are a wonderfully good thing, but not quite as good as Frosted Flakes, which, as we all know are…Gr-r-r-eat!