Snow Days

There’s a universal truth for people my age: our parents were tougher and hardier than we. When we children complained about having to walk a half mile in the rain or waiting on a cold snowy morning for the bus to the county high school, our parents told us that they walked five miles uphill through the snow to school, and, of course, five miles through the snow uphill to get home in the evening. How did they manage to walk uphill both ways? And where did they live that it snowed every school day?

Williamsburg, where I now live, seldom gets heavy snowfalls. Schools here are extremely weather cautious. Just the possibility of slick roads or sidewalks and schools are closed.

Growing up in Rappahannock County in the 1950s and 60s, I don’t remember snow days on the possibility of poor driving conditions. Buses ran, schools were open, classes happened. A snow day was rare even when winters started early and stayed late.

But then there was the winter of the Wednesday snows. Snow started falling the Wednesday evening after Christmas vacation. Early Thursday morning, after phone calls between school principals, the chairman of the school board, and Mr. Brady, who ran the local VDOT facility, the decision was made to keep the schools open, even as snow continued to fall.

County school buses hauled students from the top of Chester Gap to the far reaches of Rappahannock at the Madison County, Culpepper County, Fauquier County lines, up to the Shenandoah National Park. Buses needed snow-chains for some or all their routes. The last bus finally arrived at the high school at 10 a.m.

At 10:30 a.m. school was over for the day. Snow kept falling. School was cancelled for Friday, then, despite the road crews putting in long hard hours, school was cancelled for Monday as well. Tuesday was school as usual but Wednesday it snowed again. Repeat the previous week. Buses ran late, school ended at 10:30 a.m. Then no school Friday, Monday, or Tuesday.

My unreliable memory is that this pattern went on with minor variations for five weeks: a day or a day and a half of school followed by several snow days. Road crews worked all hours and still were not able to keep all the county roads cleared. And for most kids, we had a great deal of sledding, snowball wars, bonfires, and fun.

Maybe we did walk five miles uphill through the snow.

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