Friday, December 9, 2016

Sepia Saturday: Snow Stories

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week Sepia Saturday is all about snow. Here on the east coast of Virginia, an annual snow event is not a given. We are just as likely to get snow in October or March as in a winter month. In 2015, we ran the air conditioner Christmas Eve. A white Christmas is rare. Growing up, I never asked for a sled or toboggan, ice skates or skis. In fact, I’ve gone years with no snow boots. So it is not surprising that my snow memories are few.


Jordan snowboarding
Daughter snowboarding 1990 something --
she will have some snow memories for sure!
Nothing is more beautiful than new-fallen snow. It begs to be rolled into balls as ammunition in a friendly fight or formed into snowmen. It invites us to get out and play, to find a hill to sled down. Maybe that was how my dad felt back in January 1959 when he coaxed my mother onto a sled, not to race down a hill but simply to pull her up and down snow-covered Frailey Place for the fun of it. She was a full 9-months pregnant, just days before delivering my much-wished-for baby sister.

It was a wonderful afternoon. All the neighbors were out making snowmen and pulling one another on sleds. It’s a good thing too because when Momma was done with sledding, it took Daddy and three other men to get her up off that sled. Momma was not one to recover easily from public humiliation. I don’t think she got on a sled ever again after that.
Snow 1965 Portsmouth, Virginia
Sister, Me, Momma in 1965
6 years after the sled incident

After the Great Humiliation of 1959, you would think Momma might also have quit listening to my dad’s ideas, but no. In the late 1970s, a heavy snowfall covered the roads making them treacherous for several days. When cabin fever set in, Daddy decided it would be fun to walk from their neighborhood to mine, only about 2 miles. Of course, our family is rarely prepared for disaster, and that was one of those years when Momma had no snow boots. Solution? Daddy tied plastic garbage bags over her shoes, and they set off on their 2-mile walk through the snow. Have you ever walked in plastic bags? There is no traction. There is, however, a lot of slipping involved. Quite the cardio-workout.


Being caught off-guard is nothing new for our family, and we never learn our lesson. However, that is not the case for my city and the surrounding cities. At the first sign of even a remote POSSIBILITY of one little snowflake, Hampton Roads kicks into gear salting roads and bridges. We learned a powerful lesson in March of 1980.

I don’t know how all school systems work, but here in Virginia, public schools must be in session a certain number of days. Every year “snow days” are built into the school calendar allowing the schools to close in bad weather or for other emergencies without having to extend the school year in order to make up lost days. In case a school must close early for whatever reason, the rule is that if lunch was served, it counts as a full day.

So on March 2, 1980, it started to snow. And snow hard. I was teaching – or trying to before I just gave up because the students and I couldn’t keep from looking out the windows. We could tell by the look of the sky that this was no routine snow. This was going to be big. But it wasn’t lunch time yet. Teachers kept popping in and out of each other’s classrooms. “Are we closing early? Have you heard anything yet?” Hours went by. Finally the last lunch was served and we were sent home.

My mother, also a teacher, inched her way from her school to mine, picked me up, and we headed for home which was just 5 miles away, usually a 15-minute drive. As we approached the Churchland Bridge, we saw that cars were sliding back down, unable to climb the icy grade. There was nothing to do but make a slow u-turn and try another route. That day it took us TWO HOURS to get home.

At least we got home. People who had gone to the Circus at Scope in Norfolk were stranded there over night when the cities declared a travel curfew.

Now whenever there is snow in Hampton Roads, film clips and reports of “the Circus Blizzard of 1980” are brought out again.
March 2, 1980
photo courtesy Harvey T. Siegel

Snow is a two-edged sword.

Bundle up and head over to Sepia Saturday for more stories of snow.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. You know what I really like about this Sepia Saturday post? Your very vivid memories of the snowy incidents, not just the photos!

  2. A snow incident I remember years ago was driving with two Canadian gals up to Mount Shasta in Calif. where we planned to spend a weekend playing in the snow. They had a '52 Chevy coupe - rear wheel drive, no snow tires, no chains. The gal driving simply put the car in 2nd gear and we kept going - plowing along the snow-covered road round curves and uphill and amazingly, we made it to the resort where a parking attendant started to motion us way on down the line in a snow-packed parking lot until he noticed we had no chains or snow tires. "How did you get up here?" he exclaimed in surprise, then motioned us in the other direction to a parking lot that was closer to the resort and had been plowed. Guess we were lucky in a couple of ways! :)

  3. Such great snow stories you shared here! I don't remember too much of my first experience in snow living in Pennsylvania until I was 7 years old. I do remember my mom always fearful of when it snowed and afraid she would get stuck sliding down one of the many hills our town had because of snow and how she would always try to make sure the car was in the garage (detached) so that it wouldn't have to be cleared in the morning after a snowstorm. I think she had enough of it all and that's why we moved to Southern California when I was 7 years old.

    My first experience as an adult with snow was Santa Fe, New Mexico. Snow was forecasted and they delayed or closed schools. Imagine the surprise I got when we moved to Montana a few years later and I asked the school secretary "what number do I call to see if school is canceled?" (this was after a 10 inch snowfall) and she just laughed. Really laughed. She said in her 18 years working there the schools were only closed twice, Once because it was -20 degrees and the buses couldn't get started, and the other time because of the ash from Mount St. Helena volcano that blew their way. Son always wanted a snow day in Montana. It never happened.

    Now in Phoenix,I doubt we'll ever have a snow day :)

    I have to say, loved the 1st snow of the season and the March snows (because they would melt fast). The January snows I wasn't too crazy about :)


  4. Great stories and photos. No such thing as a snow day for schools here in Australia, but they might have to close if there was a threatening bushfire somewhere nearby.

  5. Your father's solution to the "no boots" problem was terrific -- garbage bags? Great innovation. Your father and mine would have liked each other, for sure!

  6. Wonderful post! We're sitting here in an area that doesn't see snow too often and there's probably 5 inches in my front yard - I'm not amused right now.

  7. Oh, what great memories! Your poor mother ... I groaned in sympathy just thinking about her trying to get up off that sled. And the plastic bags ... dear heavens! She was definitely a good sport!

  8. Great stories, Wendy. We don't often have a white Christmas on Long Island, but it is usually cold. I do have photos of my parents and grandparents playing croquet in the backyard one year in the 70s though. And, I think the same year, my father digging vegetable beds in the garden on New Year's Eve.

  9. I've forgotten the "Circus Blizzard" of 1980, but I was there too! More snow than I'd ever imagined. Until the Christmas snowstorm of 2010! That was impressive too.

  10. I enjoyed your snow stories, especially reading about your mother's plastic bag snowshoes.

  11. Great stories about snow. I've got a few, but will keep them for my blog someday. My favorite pic of yours was the last one with the dog pushing the people pushing the car!

  12. I also enjoyed your snow stories. I just came in the door from helping shovel about 8 inches of snow from our driveway and sidewalks.

  13. Your stories brought back many memories of my own. There is something so magical about s snow. Even the way it tends to silence everything. Just something magical.

  14. Wonderful stories, pictures and memories, which really make me realise that it was one of the reasons I moved to a place with all year round sunshine! Fun to play in as a child, or enjoy with your own small offspring, but oh the misery of travel. As a Headteacher I had many worrying moments and difficult decisions to make, as most of my staff lived miles away.

  15. I've found that my feelings about snow have changed dramatically over the years. Having grown up in southern California, I arrived at college at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, ill prepared for their winters and snow. I really had no idea what I needed to take for that kind of cold and snow. But as a young adult, snow was all about fun. Learning to ski, going sledding and snow ball fights all added to the fun of college life. When I married and had children, it was fun to take our kids sledding and to help them build a snow man. Now as an empty nester, snow is cold and treacherous and I endure it, waiting for spring and warmth to arrive.

    You can really tell a story Wendy and I love reading about your fun memories.