My First (Ever) Snow
Winter flirts with New Orleans; it plays peek-a-boo, hide-and-seek. When the sun glares with blinding intensity and clouds stay out of the way, some January days demand no more than shirt sleeves.
However, expensive fur cannot blunt nor absorb the slicing cold when temperatures dip and the air hangs heavy with moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Pontchartrain and, most of all, the Mississippi, a mile wide at that point. There is simply no comforting protection against the thoroughly damp chill of New Orleans’ winters.
One morning the rain incredibly turned to snow; the first winter I went to McDonough 10. I stuck out my tongue for the fat flakes that fell lazily from the sky; they made the sidewalks wet. The kids already at school were naturally bombing each other with kind of snowballs scraped up from the playground; they fell apart when thrown. Nobody cared.
New Orleans’ powers-that-be made the wise decision to close schools at noon. We were all, including teachers, too excited to settle down to classroom routine. We wanted to enjoy the white magic, taking advantage of a landscape my generation had never known. By the usual afternoon time to let out, only bits of snow nestled among bushes and shadows; the other flakes had melted, leaving winter’s green leaves shining.
The next day the swirling flakes seemed a distant dream, much like the summer thunderstorms that frequently march across the city, swallowing sometimes a single block at a time. You can watch the rain’s slow but inevitable advance, usually in the late afternoons.
The heavens can water New Orleans with terrible ferocity. But after the tempests’ thundering outbursts move on, the sun bakes steps and banquettes dry almost immediately. Plants swallow and digest the moisture. Windows show streaks in their dust when pushed up again.
If caught out in the open, people and their clothing wind up very soaked. But, otherwise, in lulls, between those seasonal furies, the storms seem stuff of fiction, little more than a dream, like the snow that single day.
When the U.S. Army wafted me to Germany, I ran into Europe’s coldest winter in 50 years; I witnessed the downside of snow and ice. Unlike the adventure in first grade, they stuck around for a couple of months, turning gray and dingy. Black ice was totally unknown to me.
At that time my billets were in the Hoechst Castle, erected around the 10th century; the offices and AFN radio studios were in a chateau that was a Johnny-come-lately. Instead of stone walls and a moat, it boasted a green lawn and a small tea party house overlooking the Main River. Paving bricks lined the backyard; where there once were horses, and carriages sat an Army motor pool.
Trying to get into a jeep that would take me for a Special Services club show in Heidelberg, I learned why it was called black ice: invisible and especially slippery, it was a lesson I would not soon forget. By the way, the winter before, the stretch of the Autobahn near Mannheim, just before Heidelberg, claimed the star-studded life of Gen. George S. Patton. I didn’t drive, in any case. What would a New Orleans boy know about highways in that freezing condition?
Besides I didn’t get a license until I was host for “Roy Meachum in the Morning” on Washington’s Channel Nine. Going from Greenbelt to Broadcast House in the Tenley neighborhood, I was curiously satisfied to witness all the other drivers who had not a clue about navigating snow and ice.
And few of them were from Louisiana where snow came once in a life.