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A Carolina Snowfall

February 2, 2014

The prospect of winter weather is a mixed blessing for residents of the Carolinas. Department of Transportation workers prepare for slippery roads with rock salt and brine while dads pull sleds and toboggans out of the garage. Utility workers brace for the worst with boots, gloves, and heavy outerwear while school children wear their pajamas inside out and backwards as a talisman, hoping for snow. I know some teachers who do the same.

Meteorologists know that forecasting weather for our area is always a challenge. Winter accuracy in their work becomes high-risk. With advanced technology at their fingertips and instruments of the trade close at hand, most weather professionals would agree with Jack Roper. The tool that would be most helpful to them is the one usually absent in their weather room. Their predictions would probably be more accurate if they only had a window. They could at least look outside to see for themselves what the weather was actually doing.

Country folks have their time-honored ways of determining the long-range forecast.  They claim that the length of hair on a horse’s back or the colors of fuzz on a wooly worm are indicators of the winter ahead.  The relative scarcity or abundance of acorns, pecans, hickory nuts, and beechnuts are also said to be portents of the severity of winter.

In our part of the world, ice is the most dreaded weather event of winter.  A forecast of sleet and freezing rain is reason for concern. While ice-covered trees have a crystalline beauty, the popping of breaking limbs and the cracking of splitting trunks are sounds of nature’s agony. Frozen roads and sidewalks and ice-laden power lines contribute to the human misery of broken limbs and splitting headaches.  During an especially severe ice storm several years ago, electric power at our house was out for several days.

A friend called to add his unique brand of humor to the cold and dark. “This is the devil,” he announced.  “It’s frozen over down here, too.”

On the other hand, the prospect of snow is greeted by some with wild excitement.

When the seven-day forecast held the promise of snow last week, I asked a school principal, “Is it supposed to snow?”

“It’s always supposed to snow!” came the ready reply.

A snow that sticks – that is, a snowfall with accumulation – creates a delightful playground.  Snow angels, snowmen, snowballs, snow cream, and sledding are all fun, though fleeting, possibilities.

Our enthusiastic reaction to snow baffles some of our Northern transplants.  Enough is enough for them.  Snow is a detestable nuisance.  They are annoyed that a few inches of snow can bring life to a screeching halt for so many of us in the South.

The truth is that people in this part of the country do behave in strange ways when snow is impending.  Grocery store shelves become quickly depleted of milk and bread, a fact that was always difficult for me to understand.  Do hundreds of people sit in their homes eating bread and drinking milk because we have snow?

I posed the question while standing in the express line at a grocery store several years ago when snow was in the forecast. The woman ahead of me made sense out of what seemed like nonsense. “If my power goes out, I can give my three children peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a glass of milk. The peanut butter and milk give them complete protein.” I was glad to have a reasonable answer as I stepped forward to purchase my own bread and milk.

Dr. Alastair Walker had a favorite sermon for just such an occasion.  His text was Job 38:22 where the Lord asked Job, “Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?”

As I recall, Dr. Walker offered three points in his sermon.  First, no two snowflakes are alike.  As the Creator fashioned each snowflake uniquely, so, too, has He created us. Second, snowflakes are small and delicate, inconsequential as individuals. When many snowflakes accumulate though, their combined power alters the world.  Likewise, individuals, though ineffective when acting alone, create amazing results when working together. Finally, snow is instant urban renewal.  A blanket of snow transforms a dark, drab landscape into a bright and beautiful backdrop. Yes, snow is indeed a treasure.

Winter weather provides for many of us a day of grace, the unexpected blessing of a day off from work, a day to enjoy our families.  My mother always fixed a big pot of vegetable soup on snow days.  Though the roads were too bad to travel to school, her grandchildren found a way to go “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house.”  Even if the power fails, this day of grace provides time to sit by a hearth and read a book.

This day of grace is a time to think of others.  As winter weather approaches, I remind our church members to check on family and friends, especially those who are elderly or who live alone. Last week I posted an announcement to the effect on Facebook. Almost immediately our telephone rang. One of our sons had seen that post and felt compelled to phone the elderly people he knew best.

Several years ago, a man in our church made a special gift to our benevolent fund.  He explained, “When I served in World War II, I was so cold I didn’t think I would ever be warm again.”  His gift was used that very week to provide heating oil for a family five, including three small children.

Winter weather can remind those of us who have food and warmth to share.  It is not a delight for everybody. Four years ago while visiting the hospital during an ice storm, I came upon a homeless man sleeping in the stairwell.  Community resources such as Miracle Life Ministries, the Haven, the Soup Kitchen, Mobile Meals, TOTAL Ministries, Greater Spartanburg Ministries, and the Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network provide services to our most needy citizens. We must, however, support these organizations financially.

Winter weather can be a call to prayer for people of faith.  If we receive a day of grace, we can spend some of that time in prayer.  Remember those who labor long hours in the cold and damp while others enjoy the day off: medical personnel, paramedics, firefighters, law enforcement officers, utility employees, road crews, and tow truck drivers, to name a few.  Remembering them in prayer with petitions for their safety and gratitude for their service is our privilege.

A snowfall in our area can prompt a response of shear joy.

When we lived in Winston-Salem a youth pastor there wanted to take a group of teenagers from his church on a retreat after Christmas. The minister decided to take the group to Boone, North Carolina, for a snow skiing trip at a mountain resort. When he and the group of thirty students arrived, nobody was on the slopes skiing. The manager of the lodge announced to the group, “There is not going to be any skiing today. We have plenty of snow, but the ski lifts are not working.”

The youth director had driven the group about two and a half hours to get there, the deposit had been prepaid, and the group did not want to turn around and go home. Some of the youth asked, “Can we just play in the snow?”

The manager saw nothing wrong with that idea; so after returning the deposit, he allowed the students to play in the snow while the minister and chaperones drank a cup of coffee by the fire.

After a while, the manager told the adults, “I want you to come look at this.” The youth minister and chaperones walked outside the ski lodge and saw the entire side of the mountain covered with snow angels.

When our twenty-seven-year-old son, Erik, died in November 2000, our grief was profound.  Spartanburg received a surprise snowfall with slight accumulation on the day of Erik’s funeral.  While some expressed sadness about his burial in the snow, we felt differently.

When we first saw flakes falling gently that morning, Clare said, “I think maybe Erik asked God for a favor.  I like to think that he prayed, ‘Lord, you know this will be a difficult day for my family.  Could you please surprise them?’”

The snow has become for us a blessing, a symbol of God’s grace.

Kirk H. Neely
© February 2014
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