It just doesn’t snow in these parts like it once did.
When I was a boy attending school in Smith County, we could look forward to two or three big snows every winter. I say big in the sense that they were big snowfalls for our region of the world, usually 4-6 inches in accumulation. Students could count on missing at least 10 days of school due to snow.
One winter we were out of school for almost a month of school days. That year, the temperature hovered around 0 degrees for more than two weeks. Most of the snow that fell that winter stayed around for while. It was glorious, at least temporarily, from a student’s point of view.
But weather patterns have changed, as they have throughout the long history of mankind ... I still have not bought into the concept of global warming. But some things have not changed ... like the accuracy of the weather forecasters.
When it came to predicting snowfalls, the weatherman rarely got it right back in my day. Today, they have Doppler radar along with computer models and imaging, and the weatherpersons — as I’m trying to be politically correct here — still muddle through the snow forecasts. That, of course, creates a dilemma for school officials as it always has.
Questions like these must be addressed … do we close school ahead of the forecasted snow? Do we let school out early? Do we start back two hours late? Do we cancel the basketball game? Do we cancel one and not the other? At best, it’s like rolling the dice … which brings us to a January Tuesday night in 1969.
Heavy snow had been predicted for that Tuesday. School students were excited, and school officials were concerned. All day, we waited. The snow never came. The end of the school day came … still no snow.
The next issue was the Tuesday night basketball game. How do you cancel the game when there is no snow and you just finished a full day of school? A decision was made. The game was on. Hopefully, we could get the games in before the snow arrived. The weather forecasters were insistent that the snow would arrive.
During the basketball games, people were constantly checking outside for signs of snow. The games concluded with not one trace of snow in the air. The crowd dispersed, and everyone went home. The last of the members of the boys team, of which I was one, were the last to leave the gym that night.
As I stepped out of the gym and into the night air, I could hardly believe my eyes.
Looking up through the glow of the street lights, I was met by an incredibly heavy, wet snowfall, some snowflakes appearing as big as quarters. Like floating goose down, it drifted steadily downward in seemingly endless supply. The scene had all the makings of a winter wonderland. And it was sticking fast.
I should have realized immediately that two things were not in my favor. One, on my way home, I would be driving a two-wheel drive pickup truck with no extra weight over the rear axle. And two, I would be driving on snow-covered roads.
Oh, the foolishness of youth. I was 17 years old, and I had other things on my mind -namely, food and conversation.
My only option for late-night fast food in Carthage that night was Sherry’s Diner. I took off in that direction, not taking into account that it was located at the bottom of the hill just off of the town square.
The cooks there put together a chuckwagon steak sandwich as good as any I ever ate. I had a chuckwagon on my mind when I arrived at the diner that night. I did not notice that a half inch of snow had accumulated in the foregoing 10 minutes. I soon settled into conversation with my friends, hardly noticing that there weren’t many of them joining me and that none of them lived outside the city limits.
An hour passed. The diner was closing. It was time to head home. As I stepped outside, I met my second surprise of the night. I was looking at four or more inches of deep, fresh snow. I paused to make this observation … when heavy snow is falling fast, it can accumulate in a hurry.
I now took full stock of my dilemma with a renewed sense of urgency — a two-wheel-drive pickup truck with a light back end facing heavy snow on the roads.
My father had taught me four rules for driving in snow. Use the highest gear possible. Go easy on the accelerator. Go easy on the break, and avoid making sudden turns.
I considered all that as I started the pick-up and pulled out on the street. I tested the road surface by giving the engine a little extra gas. As the truck fish-tailed, I thought “slicker than a peeled onion.” I backed up into the curve that veered around the Carthage Shirt Factory to get a running start, and took on the first of the three major challenges that lay between me and home — the hill that would take me up to the Carthage square.
I spent the night somewhere that night. Next week, I will reveal how exactly that I arrived there.