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January 22, 2022

During these difficult days for many people, Clare and I have considered what we might do to help those in need.  We have decided to continue our support for the charitable nonprofit organizations serving our community.  Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one charity.  Last Sunday, many places of worship were closed due to the snowstorm.  Remember, the bills still must be paid.  Please send a special donation, as you are able, to your place of worship or to your favorite charity.  Thank you.

By all accounts, Izzy was one of the most severe winter storms in the Upstate in several years.  The storm, caused by a major polar vortex, dubbed the Saskatchewan Screamer, impacted the lives of more than 100 million Americans.  Thousands of airline flights were canceled.  Hundreds of traffic accidents occurred along Interstate highways.  Many major roads were blocked or closed.  Twenty-three states were affected by the storm last week as it moved across the upper Midwest, into the Deep South, and up the Eastern Seaboard.  More than three-quarters of a million homes lost power.  Large cities, some with crippling snow accumulation, were paralyzed.  An untold number of people died as a direct result of the storm.

Here in the Carolinas, the impact was minimal by comparison.  The Greenville-Spartanburg Weather Bureau recorded a little over six inches of snow.  One woman told me, “We had planned a trip to Charlotte and were afraid we might have to cancel.  Friends in the Queen City told us, ‘Come on.  The Interstate won’t be bad.  We went on our trip, and the Interstate was horrible, but we made it.”

The month of January ushers into our lives the promise of a new year and the prospect of winter weather.  Meteorologists know that forecasting weather for the Upstate is always a challenge.  In winter, accuracy in their work becomes high risk.  With advanced technology at their fingertips, and instruments of their trade close at hand, most weather professionals would agree with Jack Roper.  The legendary Spartanburg weatherman told me that the tool that would be most helpful to him is usually absent in the weather room.  They probably would be more accurate in their predictions 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.  The length of hair on a horse’s back or the colors of the fuzz on a wooly worm are indicators of the winter ahead.  The relative scarcity or abundance of acorns, pecans, hickory nuts, and beechnuts are portents of the severity of winter.

In our part of the world, ice is the most dreaded winter weather event.  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, 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.  With a blaze in our fireplace, warm blankets all around, and a steaming pot of hot soup prepared outside on a Coleman camping stove, we weathered the storm in fine shape.  We had no television and no computer access.  We did have a grand old time.  Clare’s constant refrain is “Party on!”

Last Monday, in the aftermath of Izzy, a friend from our Harvard days in Boston sent a text message to add his unique brand of humor to the icy cold.  “This is the devil,” he announced.  “It’s frozen over down here, too.”

Many people in the South, especially school children and schoolteachers, greet the prospect of snow with wild excitement.   When the seven-day forecast held the promise of snow last winter, I asked a school principal, “Is it supposed to snow?” 

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

Our grandchildren prepared for the winter weather by putting spoons under their pillows, flushing ice cubes down the toilet, and wearing their pajamas inside out.  These are superstitious practices that are intended to invoke snow.   They don’t always work.  This time they did.

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

Some of our Northern transplants are baffled by our enthusiastic reaction to snow.  They are annoyed that a few inches of snow can bring life to a screeching halt for so many of us here in the South.  For them, snow is a nuisance.  Enough is enough for them.

The truth is that people of the South do behave in strange ways when snow is impending.  Grocery store shelves are quickly depleted of milk and bread.  It was always difficult for me to understand why.  “Do hundreds of people sit in their homes eating bread and drinking milk because we have snow?”  While standing in the express line at a grocery store, I posed the question.  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 a complete protein.”  I was glad to have a reasonable answer as I stepped forward to purchase my own bread and milk.

A beloved pastor 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?”  There were three points to his sermon. 

(1) No two snowflakes are alike.  Children can verify this truth by catching fluffy snowflakes on a black cloth and examining and comparing the flakes under a magnifying glass.  As the Creator fashioned each snowflake uniquely, so, too, has He created us

(2) Snowflakes are small and delicate, inconsequential as individuals.  When many snowflakes accumulate, the world is altered by their combined power.  So, too, can individuals, ineffective when acting alone, do marvelous things when working together.  We work better together than separately.

(3) Snow is instant urban renewal.  A blanket of snow makes a dark, drab landscape bright and beautiful.  Lives darkened by despair can become whiter than snow through God’s mercy.

These are some of the treasures of snow.  But there are others.

My experience is that for children and adults alike, winter weather provides for many of us a day of grace, the unexpected blessing of a day off.  It can be a day to enjoy our families.  Last weekend Clare and I enjoyed our grandchildren in our home or by Zoom at various times during the storm.

Even if the power goes out, a day of grace can be a time to sit by a hearth with a warm fire and read a book.  My mother always fixed a big pot of vegetable soup on snow days.  Though the roads were too bad to go to school, her grandchildren found a way to go “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house.”

This day of grace is a time to think of others.  As a pastor, when winter weather was approaching, I reminded church members to check on family and friends, especially the elderly and those who live alone. 

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

Winter weather is not a delight for everybody.  It can be a reminder to those of us who have food and warmth to share.  Organizations such as Miracle Hill Ministries, The Haven, the Soup Kitchen, Mobile Meals, Total Ministries, Greater Spartanburg Ministries, and the Interfaith Hospitality Network provide service to our most needy citizens.  

Some years ago, I visited the hospital early one morning during an ice storm.  I came upon a homeless man sleeping on a landing in the stairwell between the second and third floors in the old part of the hospital.  I checked to see if he was breathing.  He was.  I put my well-used raincoat over him with a ten-dollar bill in the left pocket.  I walked to the window in the fourth-floor lobby above and watched the sleet falling onto a winter wonderland.  I prayed for the sleeping stranger and all who shared his plight before making my hospital visits.

Winter weather can be a call to prayer for people of faith.  If we receive a day of grace, some of that time can be spent in prayer.  Remember those who are working while others have the day off.  Medical personnel, paramedics, firefighters, law enforcement officers, utility employees, road crews, and tow truck drivers are but a few examples of those who labor long hours in the cold and damp.  To remember them in prayer with petitions for their safety and gratitude for their service is our privilege.  Pray, too, for those who seek shelter wherever they can find it.

The treasures of the snow come to all of us as gifts.  When our twenty-seven-year-old son, Erik, died twenty years ago last November, our grief was profound.  Spartanburg received a surprise snowfall with slight accumulation on the day of Erik’s funeral.  Some expressed sadness that we had to have his burial in the snow.  We felt differently.  We when first saw the flakes falling gently from heaven, Clare said, “I think maybe Erik asked God for a favor.  “Lord, you know this will be a difficult day for my family.  Could you please surprise them?’” 

For many, winter weather is an inconvenience.  For others, an onerous burden.  But for many in the South, snow is a blessing, a symbol of God’s grace.

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. He can be reached at

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