When I was a child, snow days (days off from school because of a ‘snow event’) were announced in the early morning hours. If we happened to awaken by 6 am, we could lie in bed listening to the muffled silence that only comes when the world outside is blanketed with a thick, smothering layer of fresh snow. We would strain our ears, listening with all our might for the sound that would be distant, but audible nonetheless. If Mom came in to wake us, our deep listening would prove to be in vain.
The sound we listened for was the blaring of the horn on the firehouse, half a mile away. This was the same horn that would blow to alert us when there was a fire in town (and probably would have sounded for other emergencies, as well); the number of whistles let us know the location of the fire. For an announcement of no school, the signal was 22—two horn blasts with a brief pause before two more horn blasts. A longer pause then followed before the signal was repeated. If we heard that signal—one that seemed so far away, but so close and exciting—we would silently cheer, turn off our alarms, and go back to sleep.
These days, snow days have fallen victim to our constantly advancing technology. No more lying in wait; we are alerted of snow days via recorded cell phone call: “The following is an important message from the local school district…” the voice begins. Often, the calls come in at 5:30 in the morning. But for the big storms, the “sure thing” snow days, we are alerted the evening before, or sometimes even the previous afternoon. Since weather forecasting has become more accurate over the years (well, it often doesn’t seem so, but it has…), there seems to be more advanced warning that a storm really is going to be “epic.” Hence, more warning that it might be wise to cancel school.
Now, the announcement is closer than ever—an in your home and “in your face” type of close. No more wondering if you are going to hear the notice… or if you might merely be imagining the sound in the far off distance. It is clear your phone is ringing, and the message it carries is unmistakable. Now, the children can sleep in, and the morning doesn’t carry the same air of mystery and excitement.
I vividly remember those cold, dark mornings of waiting and listening as an integral part of my childhood winters. I wonder sometimes, if my children are missing out on an important rite of passage. But then I realize that there will be other things they will remember (and miss) when they grow up and have their own children.