Tuesday, February 14, 2006


The first time I ever saw snow I was eight years old. The lightest dusting fell on our South Carolina yard one night. I stood looking out into the night, fascinated.

A great snow fell around the first of March 1960 covering much of the upper South. My nephew was born on March 2. A few days later Daddy, Perry, and I drove from Conway to Spartanburg, about a six hour trip in those days up Highway Number 9. When we reached the sandhills, around Chesterfield County, there were six or eight inches of snow on the ground. The sun shone brilliantly. My eyes ached.

The first big snow of 1965 fell on Ashland, Virginia, in January. It blanketed the Randolph-Macon campus. I had a pair of black galoshes. I trudged through the snow to go to class, to go to the post office, to the dining hall. Several of us went to "Ma Profitt's" to get hamburgers. Today I have a hankering for a hamburger with mustard and relish and a cup of coffee when snow falls.

One night the next winter I drove my VW bug with some friends down Route 1 to Speed & Briscoe's Truck Stop. Our nightly ritual was a "Speed's run" where we Lambda Chi's could get the best and least expensive breakfast within miles. As I was getting back into my car, I dropped my keys in the eight or ten inches of snow in the parking lot. Finding keys in the snow in the dark is impossible. We hitched a ride back with some other fellows, swelling the number in his car well past the safety limit. The next day somebody took me to retrieve my keys and car. Snow had melted. My keys lay inches from the car.

Snow makes the world look ancient. Busy streets, becalmed and white, resemble unpaved country roads in the Horry County of my boyhood. Deep ruts cut by slow moving cars and trucks match those in June mud made by tractors and pick-ups.

Snow slows us. We cannot move as fast as normal. In my world people cancel things when it snows. We stay home. We read. We build fires and sit before them.

Snow covers ugliness. Trash on the streets, debris from fall hurricanes, old rusting machinery, even the porches of the poor, all become invisible under a pure white tarpaulin. For a few hours or a few days, beauty wins.

I sat listening to Andros talk of things that mattered to him while outside Mt. Pleasant Street filled with snow. Others around us bowed over their steamy bowls of soup or ate their sandwiches and chatted. Andros told me of John's suicide, of scattering his ashes, of the little red canoe that held the remains. I remembered so many conversations during the snow that fell outside Ma Proffitt's windows in 1965 and when snow filled up Nassau Street in Princeton in 1969. Coats, hats, scarves piled around spoke of Warmth. Andros went on with his story. Snow kept falling.

Soon we left and stepped into the snow, still talking. Wind blew into our faces and a little snow fell between my collar and neck and melted. I thought of John's ashes and felt cold.

The chill lasted into the night.