DOYLE: The way we played on snow days

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Parents are glad their kids are back in school, but we wonder how many created lasting memories.

By Steve Doyle

You would think that the huge release of warm air on Monday – that being the exhale of parents who were allowed to send their students back to school – would have offset some of this frigidity that has surrounded us.

After a tease of tropics on Sunday, the reading was -4 on my barn thermometer Tuesday morning, even as a school bus drove past on the road below.

Everyone is talking about the weather, and it’s not because they can’t think of anything else.

It’s because the groundhog is going to have a field day on Sunday. It doesn’t portend to improve very soon, this cold payback for the mildness of 2013.

How cold is it? I think even the students and teachers had cooled on the idea of more days off from classes, fearful that they may also have to stay in class until around the first official day of summer.

So back they went on Monday, no matter the brutal cold and leftover snow. Protective parents who had protested the prospects of sending their wards to school in the bitterness of last week suddenly found conditions bearable. They were craving normalcy, and so were some of the kids, I suspect.

That’s probably been consistent over time. Even in the days when schools weren’t canceled because technology hadn’t taught us just how severe and dangerous conditions were – think about the old cold under the lens of modern analysis? – and people were better able to cope.

But as for being out on snow days, well these are fun and surprise siestas from learning that always have excited students, I would guess. Away from the books and the early alarms? Rest and play on my schedule? Let’s have at it.

In my time, those excursions brought ineffable moments, varied though they were based on age.

As a child, snow days to me were visits to my grandmother’s house while my parents worked. She would set up her card table by the propane stove in her dining room, in front of the window, so we could watch the snow, and there my middle brother and I would play games with her all day.

That usually was Monopoly and Sorry and other board games of a certain vintage – think Quick Draw McGraw – and maybe checkers. We would try our best to beat her – where was our loving grace? – and she would try her best to let us win, I suspect.

There usually was a break for a grilled cheese sandwich and bowl of chicken noodle soup, and sometimes we would go outside and give the snow a go, but typically all available time was spent in these time-lapsed games. Typically indefinite Monopoly often was defined by the length of the break.

But in our teen years, that all changed, not that she no longer would play with us but that our focus was different.

You see, I had this basketball court in the hayloft of our huge, old dairy barn. It was slightly less than a half court, with a wooden floor and wooden backboard. There was a hay entry door beneath the basket that had to be avoided, and a hay trap door around where I had painted a free-throw lane. The hinges could disrupt a dribble, and the arching support beams for the roof could block a shot fired from too deep in the corner.

In other words, it was a perfect place for kids to play a game to which they aspired. And play we did. Often and regularly.

On those snow days, friends and neighbors would catch rides or trek from neighboring farms and nearby Simpsonville to play in the barn. Nobody usually had to call – though some would ring my grandparents’ house to see if there was a game under way – and each knew what to expect.

The basketball and my sneakers were kept in a hay trough downstairs, where the Holsteins spent the winter and provided a modicum of heat.

But upstairs it was quite nippy. We usually warmed up in two pairs of jeans and multiple sweatshirts, stocking caps and even gloves (which helped our ballhandling skills improve), until the body heat rose to a sufficient level and we got down to maybe one good layer. The ball would warm and bounce appropriately, and even if a little snow blew through the crack left by that hay door, we managed to play as many hours as we had available – or at least milking time, when our stirred dust clouds weren’t welcome below.

Lots of friendships and lofty heroics were written across that floor for the six or seven years it was a center of activity. So many snow days, so many nights, so many weekends, so many moments of greatness in the legends of our minds.

I doubt any student who stayed out of school last week had moments such as those to imprint lasting memories across their souls. I doubt they even could understand why those times meant so much to an aging typist.

When they are of a certain vintage, they most likely won’t look back to an absence from school in their sophomore years as ever having happened, much less been anything remarkable.

But I can tell you that even as I spin the words and phrases across these pages I can see the faces of Howard, Walt, Bob, Rick, Terry, Bruce, Paul, Eddie and so many others, their breath frozen in the air, their grunts and taunts and exclamations filling it.

The Monopoly games of childhood and the basketball games of adolescence don’t really mean much in life, but in a way they mean everything.

They defined a chapter of life and set a measurement for every snow day I have encountered since.