*Denotes changed name
My senior year of high school relegated me to a government class full of both preps and morons, all of whom partied instead of studying. Consequently, most of my classmates failed all of the government tests, quite miserably at that. They were too stupid, lazy, or unmotivated to ever figure out that the teacher gave standardized tests that were as easy as tests come, largely based verbatim on questions at the end of the textbook chapters. Had they only bothered to look up the answers to those questions, they would have gotten A’s every time.
Our government teacher, Coach Crowley,* was a kind enough southern gentleman, but he spoke with a slight monotone and followed the returning of graded tests with a chastising lecture, or “sermon” as I thought a more appropriate term. Each sermon was pretty much the same, consisting of southern clichés aimed to motivate us through “tough love” type insults, but they only made us laugh instead. Coach’s typical sermons went something like this…
“You people make me sick. Y’all are dumber than a sack of hammers. Some of you wouldn’t work in a pie factory tasting pies. Some of you wouldn’t hit a lick at a snake.”
Once, one of the preppy slackers raised his hand and asked, “Coach, what does that mean, ‘hit a lick at a snake’?”
Coach retorted, “Boy, it means you’re so lazy, if you came up on a snake that was about to strike, you wouldn’t even hit it. You’d just sit there and let it bite you.”
Coach Crowley continued, “Come test time again, some of y’all are gonna be as lost as a goose in a snowstorm…”
Hence is the title of my weather tale, a play on Coach Crowley’s cliché. A Northwest Alabamian in a snowstorm, or any kind of snow at all, is indeed lost, probably more so than Crowley’s proverbial goose.
Snow falls in Northwest Alabama’s Quad Cities (Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia) less than half the number of times it is forecast. During my twenty-four years in Alabama, I heard between two and six predictions of heavy snow or “snow storms” per winter. Of those, no more than five turned into anything more than a flurry or a flake, and only two storms ensued. With false predictions of snow being so common in Northwest Alabama, snow shouldn’t concern the residents, right?
Wrong! Aye, most of us Quad City natives are like the townspeople in the fable “The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf”—except we never catch on, but faithfully heed the cry each and every time. “Snow watch,” “snow prediction,” “snow flurries,” “a sighted snow flake,” or any such forecast, however insignificant or inaccurate, is all it takes. Our panic stirs into overdrive should those phrases or any other hints of “snow” come from the TV, the radio, the newspapers, or the little old lady down the street who swears her left knee’s “rumor-tism” acts up every time it’s going to precipitate.
Much of this chaos results from Northwest Alabama having few or no salt trucks (I think the Quad Cities might rent them and have them brought in from another town when needed, but I am not sure.) So in all seriousness, significant snow could potentially leave us stranded in our homes for days or longer. Even if the snow leaves nothing more than a dusting on the road, it can still prove just as confining, for the typical Northwest Alabamian knows about as much about driving in snow as the typical Yankee knows about baking cornbread.
Note that I still refer to myself as a Northwest Alabamian, though I don’t live in Alabama anymore. That’s because, as you will see, you can take the Northwest Alabamian out of the state, but you can’t take the state’s snow phobia out of the Northwest Alabamian!
The Three Essential Items
Once the word is out—and in the Quad Cities, the word “snow” spreads faster than Saturday night alcohol sales prior to Sunday’s 24-hour prohibition—we drop everything we’re doing and rush to the stores. With a 0.001% chance that those flurries will snow us in and strand us in our homes for an infinite number of days, we must be well-stocked! En route to the stores, we fight through harrowing traffic jams, largely the product of poorly-timed signals and numerous drivers in front who won’t go until ten seconds after the light turns green, just to make sure no one speeding through red at five miles per hour hits them.
When we reach the stores, we all buy the three absolutely essential “gonna-get-snowed-in” items: milk, bread, and toilet paper—each in quantities huge enough to supply an army. While a lot of us also buy other items, such as “Ice Off” and utensils for building fires, those three are the most important, the sellouts. We empty every store shelf of the essential three and file into hour-long checkout lines. Within one hour before the snow is expected to hit, no shopper in the Quad Cities can find a single loaf of bread, gallon of milk, or roll of toilet paper in Wal-Mart, Sam’s, or even the convenience stores, including the restrooms (“Attention, Customers: Five-finger discount on toilet paper, all stalls!”). You probably couldn’t even trade drugs to local pushers in exchange for their precious bread, milk, and toilet paper.
I’ve never fully grasped the logic behind the central three. The toilet paper, yeah, I get—who the hell wants to run out of that at anytime? That goes double when you are snowbound in the house for X-number of days, especially because your new snow days’ diet of bread and milk may very well give you a case of diarrhea. Nobody with the shits wants to get stuck wiping their ass with paper towels, newspapers, or the snow itself. Indeed, buying plenty of toilet paper is a natural part of having your shit together, of preparing yourself for shit to happen. The milk and bread stuff, though, that I don’t understand. What’s so damn magical about milk and bread, anyway? What the hell are you going to do, have a bowl of milk with bread crumbled in it and eat it like cereal? Sounds pretty disgusting, like something that could evoke that dreaded case of diarrhea.
As a child, I once asked some adult, my mother or grandmother, I think, what purpose large quantities of bread and milk serve in preparation for getting snowbound.
She explained, “Lots of times, when a snow storm gets bad, people lose power. Milk and bread will give us things we don’t have to cook to eat, like sandwiches.”
I said, “But if we lose power, won’t the milk and stuff we’d put in the sandwiches just go bad in the refrigerator?” I don’t remember her answer but do recall my next question. “If we need to get food we don’t have to cook, why can’t we get better food?”
“Like Cheese Balls,” I said, referring to the Planters canned product. “Or chips, or candy, or even cereal, if we’ve got the milk to go with it. Or how about snack cakes, cookies, or fruit?”
The adult told me to go outside and play. I protested that it was cold out. She told me to put on a coat and go out anyway.
I’ve often joked that the weather forecasters predict snow for profit, with the grocery stores, bread companies, dairy farms, and of course the toilet paper manufacturers and distributors paying them secret kickbacks from the resulting boom in sales. Upon my sharing this joke with fellow Northwest Alabamians, many say, “You might have a point there.” Most of their replies are deadpan serious.
Just how epidemic are the false predictions? A few years ago at my mother-in-law’s house, my husband, brother-in-law, and I watched a local TV news and weather program together. The weather people predicted snow, and the three of us predicted that they were full of shit. We turned out to be correct, our accuracy based upon personal experience rather than psychic prowess. After the period of said snow came and went without incident, the same show aired a segment where viewers could phone in and make comments regarding the news and weather program. One female caller had the following to say:
“I’m sick and tired of y’all predicting snow all the time when it never snows! Every year it’s the same thing. Y’all say it’s gonna snow, and everybody runs to the store and buys bread, milk, and toilet paper, and nothin’ happens. I’m sick of it. I don’t believe y’all anymore! No one believes y’all! So either get it right or stop saying it’s gonna snow when it ain’t!”
The phone slammed down. The three of us practically rolled on the floor laughing and later told everyone we knew about the phone call. While they all agreed with the complaint, they thought we were joking about the phone call. I swear, though, it really happened.
I should dually note that sometimes, every once in a great while, by some grace of God or mere stroke of luck, the weather people get it right. Sometimes, Northwest Alabama actually does get snow, sleet, or some other sort of significant weather difficulty or hazard. When that happens, the snowy weather itself incites even more amusing events than the false predictions of it.
Not long after the snow forecasts, before the first snowflake ever falls, practically every local public building closes. The few locations that do stay open are the churches, which never close in Northwest Alabama, and the emergency facilities, such as the police station, fire department, and hospital. Even those are “token openings,” the business manned by a short staff because the rest of us are home hiding from the snow, which, like the “Great Pumpkin” in Peanuts, might or might not come—but probably won’t. Heaven help you if, during this time, you should develop a medical ailment that requires you to go to the emergency room. Likely you will sit there awaiting treatment for several hours, if not all day and night. Most government facilities also close, including the post office. The mail trucks won’t even run.
Usually, the schools close first. Needless to say, this delights Northwest Alabama children, who welcome snow and “snow days” much more warmly than the adults. The Quad Cities’ schools close so frequently for snow that the schools tack two-to-three extra “snow days” onto each school year. In the highly unlikely event that the schools do not close for snow, the extra days get bumped to the end of the year. Parents and teachers psyche the students into thinking this means they get out of school “early,” when they are actually just getting out “on time” or “not late.”
Of the schools, the county schools close first. Some Yankees reading this might not know what a county school is, so I’ll explain. A county school is one out in a rural, isolated area for educating children who live on farms or in other desolate locations where, as George Carlin would say, “the buses don’t run.” Largely neglected financially by the local government, the county schools receive most of their funding from parents’ purchases of tickets for their kids’ sporting events, or the students buying snacks and drinks from the built-in school stores. Some Northwest Alabama county school students of today might really have to walk ten miles to school, uphill, both ways. But not in the snow, never in the snow, because if there is one iota of a chance of snow, the county schools will be the first to close! After all, traveling to school along all of those rugged, rural routes could prove fatal in snow! Therein lays one of the only advantages the county school kids get, for the city schools are a bit—deliberate emphasis on the word “bit”—slower to close for snow.
The county schools’ speed in closing for snow isn’t surprising considering they also do the same thing for heavy rain out of fear that “it might flood.” Throughout the entire time I’ve been alive, I’ve never known Northwest Alabama to flood. It is crystal clear why we joke that the local county schools close if someone sneezes. It is only a half-joke, too; while I was in attendance, they closed many times for flu epidemics.
Northwest Alabama schools permit parents who believe that the schools aren’t closing fast enough to check their children out early or keep them home altogether. Furthermore, if parents keep their kids out of school simply because “it might snow, and that the roads might get bad,” the schools will generally count the absences as excused!
One day during my first grade year, my mother took me to school despite local radio and television forecasts of “a chance of snow.” Mid-morning, as I sat in my assigned chair before one of a number of miniature classroom tables that seated four children, my “Mamaw” showed up at the classroom door. She told my teacher she was checking me out of school due to the approaching snow. Mamaw had to be the one to pick me up because my father lived in Texas and my mother was still at work in the mall, which had not closed for the possible snow…yet.
Mamaw told my teacher, “A few minutes ago on the radio, they said it’s supposed to get bad later, and the roads are going to get icy! So I’m taking my granddaughter home now, while we can all still drive.”
Upon learning of the latest broadcast, my teacher of course agreed that I should go home, just to be on the safe side. Though no one else had been checked out of her class, she said she figured other children’s parents would show up early as the day wore on.
While listening to them talk and gathering my stuff, I looked out the classroom window. Outside, it definitely looked as cold or colder than it had been earlier, the sky having taken on a foreboding mosaic of ice blue, pale gray, and winter white. Yet I didn’t see a single flake, flurry, or even a drop of precipitation on the window panes. Honestly, I doubted it would snow at all. Though I was only six or seven years old, I had already grown quite familiar with the local weather forecasters’ hit-and-miss snow prediction patterns. I sure wasn’t about to point that out, though! I wanted to go home!
A little boy who sat across from me sputtered, “Ph-t-t-t! It ain’t gonna snow today!”
“Shut up!” I whispered, afraid Mamaw would change her mind if she overheard the insights of a worldly first-grader.
“Yeah,” scoffed the little girl who sat alongside him. “You’re going just to get to go home early!”
“So what?” I retorted. “Who cares? You’re just mad ‘cause I get to go home and you have to stay at school! So there, nah-yah!” I said, making a face and sticking out my tongue at them. Then I sauntered out of the classroom with Mamaw.
I had myself a fine time being out of school that afternoon. I dined on Mamaw’s snow stash of sandwiches and milk, watched cartoons, and through the living room window, watched the snow not falling. That night, it finally did snow, but it was only a few flurries. It was enough for Northwest Alabama to deem it necessary to close all of the schools the next day, yet not enough for me to make a snowman, a snow angel, a snow midget, or even a snowball. I was disappointed that there wasn’t enough to play with, but tickled to death that it had helped me achieve the main goal in life of a Quad-Cities elementary student—getting extra time out of school. Snow, or sometimes the mere prediction of it, certainly is a Northwest Alabama school-hating student’s best friend.
I finally saw my first significant snowfall in Northwest Alabama one weekend of my sixth grade year, when Holly, a friend from class and my bus route, was sleeping over at my house. It snowed so much that Holly had to spend an extra night or two, for we both lived out in the rural county, and her family couldn’t bypass the roads to come pick her up, thanks to the lack of salt trucks. Throughout Holly’s extended stay, we played in the snow in several intervals, broken only whenever my mother called us to come inside before we caught “our death of cold,” though to this day, I have never heard of anyone dying of a cold. The snow came up so high that it reached our knees—no small “taters” since we were two of the tallest girls in our class—and soaked our skin, even through the boots and layered socks and pants that we wore.
It was the only time during my childhood that it snowed enough in the Quad-Cities to build a snowman. We couldn’t build too good of one, though. After all, for a snowman, you need certain things, like scarves, hats, buttons, and a carrot for the nose. However, we only had…(drum roll)…you guessed it—bread for the face and toilet paper for the scarf. Ever try to build a snowman out of that stuff? Nah, doesn’t work too well, especially when you have a snow-crazed mother yelling after you, “You put that stuff back right now! We need it in case we get snowed in for weeks!” It might have worked better, at least for the eyes, if she’d bought those Planters Cheese Balls I was always after my family about. Alas, as they say in the South, “we was po’,” so we needed all of our extra supplies for the natural disaster which had befallen us. Holly and I were forced to make our snowman solely out of snow and sticks that we broke off of the neighborhood’s dead shrubbery. That worked okay with the arms, mouth, and nose, but our snowman looked kind of funny with little flat sticks for eyes, sort of like a slant-eyed white dude. I guess he would have at least been considered, had the phrase been coined back then, “culturally diverse.”
The winter of my eighth grade year, a snowstorm of such gravity hit our area that, just like the adult had warned me years ago could happen, we lost both electricity and water in our house for five days; my county school also closed for five. We were lucky, I guess, because we lived on the border of the city limits. Some houses in the more isolated county areas remained without water and electricity for ten to twelve days. Many of the kids from those areas didn’t come back to school until after that. In a morbid way, I considered them the lucky ones because they got even more excused days out of school. I’m sure my perspective was tainted because our house had the luxuries of a fireplace and a kerosene heater, both of which we used simultaneously. Toasting alongside them, I spent my snow days leisurely curled among layers of blankets as I drank milk, ate sandwiches and other bread-based meals, chatted with my mother and additional family members by phone (that miraculously still worked), and read by candlelight and flashlights. However, I and a number of other students I know might have gladly roughed it with our less fortunate classmates for a few additional days out of school!
Idle Hands Make Snow Mischief
In case I haven’t already illustrated this point, snow in Northwest Alabama brings out the craziness in many of its natives. Not me, of course—just many natives…
During my grade school through junior high years, I had a best friend a couple of years younger than me named Dallas. She and I slept over at one another’s houses almost every weekend, she at my house every Friday, I at hers every Saturday. On one of those Saturdays when I was about thirteen and Dallas was about eleven, we got “snowed in” at her house by a big, whopping, two-to-three inches of snow. Childishly, I got a little pissed at the snow itself. Viewing it like it was another person capable of conscious thought and decisions, I was mad at it for not “waiting” until at least Sunday night so I could get out of school Monday. However, I was grateful that my mother had decided to stay over at Dallas’s during the “inclement weather” as opposed to picking me up, figuring that it would be safer than her risking driving us home in it.
After Dallas’s mother went to bed, Dallas, her little brother Daniel, and I sat at the kitchen table conversing and eating pizza ordered before the “snow-in.” The snow had knocked out the cable, and with little to do inside their house other than watch T.V., our conversation and our boredom began to turn our brain’s cogs and wheels of mischief.
“You know our cat we used to have?” Dallas asked me. “Hazel* killed it.”
“Who’s Hazel?” I asked.
“She’s the old, evil lady who lives right next door, over there,” said Dallas, pointing through the kitchen window to the house to our right. “I hate her because she killed our cat. Didn’t she, Daniel?”
“Yeah,” agreed Daniel, “that damn, mean, stupid, old bitch.” For a nine-year-old, Daniel had a pretty foul mouth.
“How do you know she killed it?” I asked.
“She left its dead body in a garbage bag on our doorstep,” said Dallas.
“Did you see her leave it?”
“No, but we know it was her because she hated our cat and always yelled at it.”
“Yeah, someone deliberately killed it and was rubbing it in your face, all right. But that doesn’t mean she’s the one who did it, though.”
“No one else would. No one else in the neighborhood hated our cat.”
“Did you take it to the vet and call the police?”
“What’d they say?”
“The vet told us the cat was poisoned, but the police said there was no proof that Hazel did it.”
“There’s not,” I said. “It’s likely. But how do you know it was really her?”
Then Dallas supplied the answer that is magic in the typical child’s mind: “Because we just know.” Daniel nodded in agreement.
The phrase of ultimate conviction, uttered by my best friend and confirmed by her little brother, naturally provided proof enough to my thirteen-year-old mind. Not long thereafter, we began to hatch a children’s diabolical plot of revenge: We would go outside and pelt snowballs at Hazel’s car and house.
The three of us put on our winter gloves, quietly slipped out the side carport door, and scoped out the scene at Hazel’s house. We saw a car parked in her driveway, but no one outside and no lights on in the house, so it looked pretty safe. We chose the easiest target first—the car. Unfortunately, our snowball plan didn’t work too well. As usual, so little snow had fallen that it was difficult to gather enough to even make into a ball. It was also quite slushy, so when we’d throw the balls, they would just break apart before they hit the car, at best splattering a little dirty water on it before disintegrating into pieces on the ground. Furthermore, the car already had a dusting of snow on it, so even if we’d hit it with any good snowballs, we probably wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference.
Putting my hands on my hips, I sighed, “Well, it was a cool idea, but this snow’s just too crappy. It’s not going to work.”
“Great!” Dallas complained. “How’ll we get her back now?”
Daniel piped up, “I know what’ll work.”
With that, he retreated into the house. We followed, and when we got inside, we found him pulling a carton of eggs out of the refrigerator and closing the door.
“Oh, man,” I said, “snowballs are one thing, but throwing eggs could get us in deep crap.” At age thirteen, the word “crap” in any of its forms was my favorite catchphrase.
“Yeah,” said Dallas. “I’m not going to do it.”
Daniel sputtered, “Hell, I will! That bitch killed our cat! She’s a butt!” At the time, calling someone whom he disliked “a butt” was Daniel’s favorite catchphrase.
“You won’t do it,” Dallas taunted. “You’ll chicken out.”
“Oh yeah? Well, come outside and see.” With the carton in hand, he trotted through the side door again. Allowing ourselves to replace better judgment with our morbid sense of curiosity and desire to make sure Hazel got hers, Dallas and I followed.
Outside, Daniel stood poised before Hazel’s upper side window, first egg in hand. He fired and hit the side of the window shutter with an audible splat. Something about that initial splat sent Daniel into a bit of a craze. He started hurling the eggs one after the other, in rapid succession, repeatedly calling out between throws, “Hazel, you butt!” So basically, this led to a pattern of…
“Hazel, you butt!”
“Hazel, you butt!”
“Hazel, you butt!”
Eventually, Daniel threw an egg that smacked against the window dead center. A light flashed on inside the window, the old lady started yelling, and that was it for us! We took off like bats out of hell! We dashed to the side door. Someone had accidentally locked it! Panicked, we made a beeline for the woods that bordered Dallas and Daniel’s backyard. Under the mask of wooded darkness, we dropped the evidence of the remaining eggs and huddled, hiding and shivering but undetected.
After a few moments, we got cold and tired of being outside, plus I had to go to the bathroom. So Dallas ordered Daniel to go back to the house. He was to knock on the door for their mother to unlock it and let him in, make sure Hazel was not sitting in their living room ratting us out, and then come back and let us know whether or not the coast was clear or if one or all of us were going to have to take the heat.
“Why do I have to be the one to go back and face Hazel if she’s in there?” Daniel whined.
“Because you’re the one who threw the eggs, stupid!” Dallas said. “We’re not getting blamed for it! Now go!”
He did. He stayed gone, and gone, and gone…
Finally, I said, “Dallas, I don’t think he’s coming back.”
“Yeah, I bet it’s because Hazel’s in there right now with Mom telling on us, and he’s getting in trouble.”
“Well, we’ve got to go back anyway,” I said, holding my abdomen with both hands as I hopped from one foot to the other. “I’m dying to pee.”
“Can’t you hold it?”
“No!” I said vehemently. “I’ve been holding it forever already!”
“Just go out here.”
“Why not? It’s dark, and nobody’s around.”
“There’s nothing out here to wipe with!”
“You can use the snow.”
“NO! I’m not wiping myself with cold snow!” The urge grew stronger, and I hopped faster. “We’ve got to go back, now!”
“Fine,” Dallas rolled her eyes. “I just hope Hazel’s not there. I swear, you have to pee every fifteen minutes!”
We cautiously but quickly skulked from the woods to the sliding glass doors at the rear of the house. We peered inside. The living room was empty except for Daniel, who sat all dry and comfy on the sofa. The cable was back on, and Daniel was watching MTV music videos while having a big bowl of chocolate ice cream.
We tried to open the patio door but found it locked. While I doubled over, scrunched my legs together, and held myself, Dallas knocked on the patio door. When she got Daniel’s attention, she called through the glass, “Daniel, are we in trouble?”
“Nah!” Daniel called back. Apparently, he had decided it would be funny just to leave us out there, especially because he knew I needed to urinate.
“Dallas!” I cried, twisting around uncomfortably. “I’ve got to go now!”
“All right, Daniel,” Dallas said, “let us in.”
An ear-to-ear diabolical grin spread over Daniel’s face, and he shook his head “no.”
“C’mon, Daniel, open the door!” Dallas said, pounding on it. “Macey has to use the bathroom!”
“Yeah, Daniel, please,” I echoed in agony. “I’m about to wet my pants!”
Daniel put down his bowl, arose from the couch, and approached the door. But instead of opening it, he abruptly turned his back, dropped his pants and drawers, and pressed his butt cheeks against the glass door.
Dallas and I burst into hysterical laughter. As I laughed, I doubled over and simultaneously danced about, holding in my urine by only a wing and a prayer.
Dallas responded by turning her back to the door, dropping her own pants and drawers, and pressing her butt cheeks to the glass in a mutual mooning of her brother. At the sight of both their sets of butt cheeks pressed to the glass, I cackled harder, the last of my self control washing away with the warm urine that flooded my pants.
“All right, all right, let me in!” I demanded. “I’ve wet myself!” That only made them laugh harder, and despite my embarrassment, I kept laughing, too, and peeing.
Our commotion awakened Dallas’s mother, who appeared in the living room. “What’s going on out here?” she demanded, at last unlocking and opening the patio door.
“Macey wet her pants! Macey wet her pants!” Dallas and Daniel chimed as I rushed inside in relief, seized my overnight bag from Dallas’s room, and ran for the bathroom.
“That’s right!” I called out as I moved. “And it’s all Daniel’s fault for locking us out when I had to pee, and both of their faults for making me laugh until I did!”
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