If you were in Southern Illinois earlier this week, as temperatures actually hit 60 degrees Fahrenheit in some spots, you may have noticed grocery store shelves start to empty. Once the forecast indicated a wintry mix was coming, storm panic hit. People began planning large meals of French toast and meat. Well, maybe not, but the bread and meat with some other items began flying from store shelves.
My brother, Consulting Historian for A Slice of Southern Illinois, and I recently reminisced about snow days as kids in Tonti. This was WAY before remote learning was a thing. “E-learning” to us would have meant learning words beginning with the letter “e.” There were no automatic texts to say that school was cancelled. (For that matter, “text” was not yet used as a verb…) Our phones were still attached to the wall–one in the kitchen and one in the hallway upstairs.
We did have kind of a direct line to knowing if it was a snow day in grade school. Our dad was the principal. As it was a smaller, country school, one of the hats he wore as principal was that of the transportation director. This meant we sometimes all piled into the Pacer (our family car for much of my childhood…) to check the bus routes. Dad drove through the bus routes, mostly all on country roads, to see if it was possible for buses to run. The little Pacer got stuck in a snow drift by a friend’s house once. Her family was kind enough to help us get back on the road. Selmaville did NOT have school the next day…
Of course, if the electricity was out, school was cancelled. Crackling, sparkling ice on the trees was beautiful, but the weight sometimes caused power outages. Water also froze when temperatures were too low. My parents tried to be as prepared as they could for any water outage since we had well water. My mom washed and reused plastic jugs by filling them with water for washing. She stored them in what we referred to as the “water closet.” If it was cold enough that our water froze, it meant the goats and other animals needed more attention to their water. Frozen five gallon buckets of water were pretty heavy. (Carrying water buckets from the outdoor faucet at the house across nearly two acres to the barn was quite a workout in good weather. Trying to remain upright on ice was an added challenge.)
Before my parents got a wood burning stove, it was pretty cold in the house during a power outage. We sometimes went to warm up at my aunt and uncle’s home. They had a fireplace. Of course, we had a lot of fun hanging out with our cousins. I remember frozen snowmobile rides through a path in the woods being a blast. Very cold, but fun.
One winter night as a fourth grader, when the power was out due to ice, the wood stove kept us warm. We congregated in the kitchen around a battery operated lantern that we also used to do chores in the barn. I spent quite a while by the light of the lantern reading for pizza ingredients. (Yes, you read that right…) My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Hunter, let us pick paper pizza ingredients to add to our paper pizza slices based on how many minutes we spent reading. I really wanted a supreme pizza slice..
My brother reminded me that during the Blizzard of ’82, nursing home staff and residents at one Salem facility were reportedly snowed in for three days. As if that wasn’t bad enough, an employee advised that the coroner had to wait to tend to a death until a door could be opened. (I’m not sure how that managed not to be made into a television movie…)
We also remembered hearing that the Salem Armory had been used as a temporary shelter during that blizzard for travelers on I-57 who were stranded by the storm. Employees at a local restaurant, some unable to commute home during the storm, reportedly helped to keep the travelers fed.
A couple decades or so later, when my kids were little, we did have a few snow days. Snow angels, snowballs, and attempts at making snowmen were fun. We also made some tasty snow ice cream.
Now that they are young adults, I’m not sure that snow days are quite as much fun. I think the fur babies may be more excited than the kids are about snow.