On Snow, Language and the South. Sort of

January 22, 2016 7:18 pm
Clemmons, NC

A car catches fire in Raleigh, North Carolina as drivers battle heavy snow on Wednesday, February 12, 2014.
A car catches fire in Raleigh, North Carolina as drivers battle heavy snow on Wednesday, February 12, 2014.
Yesterday, everything closed because it was reported we were going to get snow today. And so around 3am this morning, it started snowing and by 6am when I left early for work, the roads were already slippery. Luckily, the only other people on the road were people like me trying to beat the onslaught of clueless drivers who only ever drive on snow/ice once or a twice a year and have to be reminded, catastrophically so, what it means to have snow in the south.

I’ve learned that snow here is not like the snow that you and I grew up with which was crunchy like styrofoam and could be scooped up and thrown as snowballs or be sculpted into snowmen. The word “snow” here means something very different than the rest of the country’s usage. It’s more akin to the Southern phrase “Bless your heart” meaning anything but. Having had the phrase said to me in most variants, I propose that if one could fully explain all the nuances of the phrase “Bless your heart” then one would grasp the frustratingly complex character of certain Southerners I have come to know (you know who you are.)

So, Snow here is not “snow.” The closest thing it is is ice. And then it’s not like the ice you see hanging from trees in intricate and delicate shows of filigree. Here snow/ice generally is more like gritty sand. Sometimes folks here will call it “sleet” but again it not what you or I would call sleet which i tend think of as being wet and splooshy and behaving more like thick, very cold rain. Instead, “sleet” here is granular and pelty, as in to be pelted in the face with. This sleet falls frozen and stays frozen, quickly forming nice laminar sheets of inch-thick ice that is as impossible to drive on as you trying to imagine me skating gracefully on a rink.

When people laugh about the Southern Snowpocalypse of 2014 and the seeming ineptness of cities like Raleigh and Atlanta, I want to remind them (oh people of Colorado) that their hubris is misplaced because they are comparing apples-to-oranges. Northerners would do no better if they were subjected to the same conditions Southerners were and are. As I spend more time here, I learn this is true of more and more things. That’s all I have to say about that. For now

So, I stand outside with the kids and see them try to play on and with the “snow” which can’t be used to make snowballs or snowmen because it behaves like dry sand. Nor can it be sledded on because the snow then functions like an Olympic Luge track; the kids accelerate too fast and have to bail/eject from the sled to avoid certain doom.

Nonetheless the kids and I are having fun. There is nothing like a Certified Snow Day in which the World decides that while yes, it’s going to pummel you, it’s also going to equally pound everyone else, which makes days like this have a certain lightness of spirit, where the daily grind and load lessens because you can not go/do anywhere/anything or you will end up both literally and metaphorically in a ditch, which I think gets at something about what it means to live in the South where its rules and language aren’t readily apparent to me and even when they seem clear, may not actually be what is really going on. But with the help of some people down here, I have learned that the World is in fact not Hobbesian nor Malthusian, or Darwinian. And that’s a good thing to know. Even if they don’t actually have real snow in the South.

How Mac is now using language

Mac says “I go to bed and then watch TV.”

We correct him and say, “NO, first you watch TV and then go to bed.”

He replies “Good idea!” and wins yet another fifteen minute reprieve to watch TV while we slowly figure out we just got conned by a consummate pro.

Other times he will sneak into our bedroom, crawl into our bed and contentedly hang out with his cup of milk watching day-glo cartoons.1

  1. our little stoner seems especially tripped out by Yo Gabba Gabba! which I don’t think actually teaches anything other than what to do at a rave. []