“No school today.”
People in two of the three parts of the country where I’ve spent my life heard those three words this week.
“Dorchester County, Maryland… no school today.”
“Kansas City, Missouri… no school today.”
And here in Bradenton, Florida… well, it’s seventy and sunny, but I didn’t come here to rub it in.
No. School. Today.
Admit it, if you grew up in an area where it snows, those three words trigger something inside you. The little kid in you surfaces, if only for a moment. It’s there.
When I was a kid, we got news of school closings on WCEM radio from their long-time morning announcer, “Curly in the Early” (the inspiration for the radio station owner in my book, The Resurrection of Hucklebuck Jones). For a while, I thought Curly was the person actually in charge of making the decision, never dreaming that someday I’d be that person.
And what did we do when we found out? Go back to bed? No siree. We would pile on the layers and head outside. Galestown, Maryland’s population was 120, and it seemed half were kids. The best snow days were when Galestown’s millpond froze over enough to skate. When the ice was especially thick, our fathers would build a roaring fire to keep everyone warm while they skated (yes, fire on the ice). There could be dozens of people there on any given night. Kids skated. Parents visited. Dogs sniffed.
Fast-forward to college. It was rare for Western Kentucky University to cancel classes, but when they did, look out. Western’s sports teams are the Hilltoppers, and they’re not called that for nothing. The campus is situated 250 feet above the rest of the city. Have you ever sledded down a 250-foot hill with a couple thousand of your best friends? In the dark? On a lunch tray? I broke a tooth during the winter of 1980 doing just that.
Eventually youth has to give way to adulthood, but don’t ever believe your teachers don’t love snow days as much as you did. Maybe they don’t go as nuts as the Saturday Night Live parody a couple years ago (You can find it here, but know in advance it’s both PG-13 and wickedly funny), but most are as pumped as any kid. My favorite memories of snow-days in Missouri during the 1980’s involve having my Perryville teacher buddies over for movies and ping-pong, and impromptu staff-only volleyball games in Owensville.
Toward the end of my career, I became the guy who made the final call. Boy was that exciting… for maybe a week. Then, reality set in. If it had already snowed, I jumped in the car and drove. My first superintendent gig was in Clarksville, Missouri, and our house was halfway up the highest bluff on the Mississippi River. Somebody asked me once if school would be closed if I couldn’t get down the hill. That’s a dumb question. I could always get down the hill. My car went down straight, backward, sideways, and on at least one occasion, spinning in circles. The problem was getting back up.
Anyway, I would head for the backroads, where if I slipped and spun too much, would cancel school. Inevitably, the first question would be, “do you think there will be school tomorrow?” Please! Can’t you just enjoy today? There was one particularly brutal stretch when sub-zero temperatures kept us from having school for the better part of a week. A neighboring superintendent, exasperated by the prospect of having to make up so many days, called me at four one morning and excitedly said, “I just stood outside without a coat for ten minutes! We’re going back to school!” The temperature was minus three, and I’m certain he suffered some non-reversible brain damage, but his story is nothing compared to another colleague who made the bold decision to have school on a particularly icy day, then rear-ended one of his own school buses on the way to the office.
Snow days don’t impact my life anymore. I spend winters in Florida, and those few snowy days when we might be in Missouri are spent next to a roaring fireplace. But still, when I wake up on those cold Missouri mornings to snow on the ground, or see a snowy forecast from back home, one of my first thoughts is still...
No school today.