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Of Housesitting, Snow, and Roads

Choosing a topic for this week's blog post was difficult. I couldn't decide whether to write about the out-of-state granddaughters with whom we just spent five days, or the snowstorm we experienced while visiting them, or a historical family photograph.

Indecision is a terrible thing. To res0lve the dilemma, I chose not to decide by writing briefly about all three topics.

Last week, my wife and I drove the three hours to our daughter's to housesit while she and her husband went on an anniversary getaway for a few days.

That housesitting also involved two lively granddaughters, one a firstgrader and the other a kindergartner; several egg-laying chickens; and an energetic and muscular dog named Tank, which is an appropriate monicker considering how he's built.

The girls weren't privy to the fact that we would be visiting. Their parents didn't want their inevitable excitement to affect their educational activities. So when we accompanied their mother to pick them up the first afternoon, they were understandably surprised, and their adrenaline shot through the roof.

Their parents were concerned about how the girls would react at bedtime. They expected tears and cries of "I miss my Mommy!" But my wife preempted the rivers of saltwater by using her elementary teacher's ingenuity. She told them they were going to have an all-girls' sleepover in a tent, which they created by arranging sheets over chairs and other items of furniture in the bonus room.

And they loved it! In fact, they wanted to do it every night until Mommy and Daddy returned. I was exiled to the bed in the corner by myself. Such inhumane treatment of a grandfather!

But then came the snow. Measurable snowfall here in the South is rare, but we welcome it when it does occur. Within reason. Where we were housesitting, it was about 2 inches of snow with a lot of sleet, ice, and freezing rain. When we got home two days later, we found at least 8 inches, and that was after the wet, heavy snow had settled a bit. Truly a winter wonderland, and not a track to be found marring the scene.

But snow isn't so welcome when it is accompanied by ice, sleet, freezing rain, and wind chills in the teens. It's bad enough when store shelves mysteriously empty of milk, bread, and eggs upon the mere mention of snow in the weather forecast, but when one adds ice to the equation, it produces a potential disaster.

As a kid, I learned the theory of proper snow/ice driving by watching Daddy do so in our snowfalls in Tennessee. But I earned practical experience when we lived in Pennsylvania and I actually drove in much deeper snow than the South ever gets. I could put those lessons learned to good use in the Carolinas, too. If it weren't for the Southerners who don't know how to deal with such conditions but think they do. (Don't get me started on that!)

But the girls were excited about the snow and wanted to go out to play in it. We began bundling them in the requisite layers before we ourselves got dressed to brave the 22-degree temps with wind gusts--and resultant wind chill--of 35-40 mph. Just before we were ready to leave the house, the kindergartner began crying. She was hot, she complained while trying to remove her coat. We finally coaxed her to leave it on, but she continued to cry.

We loaded them aboard the sled and pulled them to our other daughter's house a few hundred yards away on the same street. She has a steeper hill, perfect for sledding. The girls made two trips down the hill together, and then the kindergartner began crying. She was cold.

Her older sister made a solo descent, and then we loaded them onto the sled and pulled them back home. Into the wind. Against face-stinging sleet. Only a cup of hot chocolate stanched the tears. But when Mommy and Daddy returned, the kids were gushing with tales of what fun they'd had sledding.

I couldn't help contrasting this experience with the days of my own youth, when we went out at sunrise and stayed out until after dark, coming in only for lunch or to change into dry clothes. When, if we had no snow boots, we put freezer bag-covered feet into Converse sneakers and sledded anyway. When our hands were so cold we couldn't snap our fingers. 'Way back in the Ice Age, when no one ever had any fun.

Then came the inevitable dirty part of a snowfall. When brsave souls ventured out in increasing numbers and the temperatures rose above the melting point, turning the snow to dirty slush. And the fun is only a memory.

And that reminds me of a photo that has been handed down through our family. If we think our slushy roads are bad now, this photo reminds us of just how fortunate we really are today.

Uncle Homer Weaver was a mail carrier in the late 1920s or early 1930s when Tennessee had some deplorable country roads. The photo shows his mail vehicle stuck in one such muddy, rutted road. Yet, somehow the mail got through. "Neither snow nor heat nor gloom of night stays the couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." Talk about good ol' days!

By the way, the weather prophets are predicting another snow event later today and tonight. Oh boy!

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