Dixie Snow

December 27, 2013 | By | Comments (7)
Illustration by Jack Unruh

Illustration by Jack Unruh

Where I live, a light snow is a big event, to be wondered at rather than plowed.

The yellowed photograph, the size of a playing card, is tacked to the wall in my mother’s house, right above my desk. It shows a tiny frame house blanketed in white. An old woman, my grandmother, stands in the open door. You need a magnifying glass to read Ava Bundrum’s expression, but on her face appears to be a look that is part fascination, part suspicion, as if she is trying to decide whether to step off into this alien stuff, or duck back inside and wait it out till the thaw.

No one here seems to remember how that picture came to be, but I fixed it to the wall because I like looking at it, because it makes me smile. It is proof of the Southerner’s never-ending wonderment with snow.

Ava never went north of Lookout Mountain. She lived her life in the low hills along the Alabama-Georgia line, and seldom saw deep snow. Though, one year, a late snowfall did all but cover the buttercups she had planted inside an old tire at the edge of the driveway. And because it was so rare, it was always wonderful and, in a way, maybe even a little frightening.

She had sayings for the weather. If thunder shook the house and a big rain turned the air around her to gray, she would mumble: “Ole devil’s beatin’ his wife.” But she had nothing for snow. It was too infrequent. She would merely stand and look at it, through the thick glass of her spectacles.

When enough of it had fallen onto the cars and trucks in the yard, she would wrap a shawl around her head and slog through it, a dishpan in one hand and a spatula in the other. She would scoop a gallon or so of the snow into the pan, then hurry inside. Working fast, she would mix in sweetened condensed milk and a little sugar, and maybe some vanilla flavoring. Then she would portion it out to us boys, her grandsons, and announce to us: “Snow cream.” And it was good.

The Yankees say we don’t know how to drive in it, how to walk on it, or even stand. They may be right. But if they had not come down here to live among us, abandoning the tundra of home, they would not be here to know.

I like that people here are not used to it. I have walked hip-deep through the dirty gray snow of New York and Boston, and have seen whole cars disappear under grimy snowplowed ice, along with my fascination.

I still feel it, some, when I see children rush into a snowfall that could not cover pea gravel. I see them using spatulas and spoons to scrape up enough snow to make the saddest snowmen you have ever seen, more red mud that anything else. They last a day, or a morning, and then become forlorn lumps. I have seen children make snow angels in what, mostly, seemed to be slick gravel. But I love to see them try.

Ava never went to a place where such things were mundane. The snow was always exotic, and if the Yankees had any sense they would recognize that she was exotic, too, a kind of hothouse flower, surviving in this one special, humid place. I miss her all the time, but more when the ground turns white.


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  2. denice

    I lived in New Orleans the first 23 years of my life. We figured we received snow every 25 years or so, so it was a big event when as a teenager, my sisters and I went out to “play” in the snow. The one thing I remember the best about it was each of us grabbing a handfull of snow, cupping it into a ball, and sneaking into the house to put the snowballs in the freezer in our house, and very proud to show it off to our friends. They didn’t last long in the manual defrost freezer, because it was cleaned out within the month.

    I loved your article. We were told that when it was raining and the sun was out, then thunder sounded, that the “devil was beating his wife”. I know these sayings are different depending on the region you were in. Now being in the Mid-Atlanta region, it seems the devil beats his wife often here. Also, after experiencing the coldest winter ever (20-year-old temperature records broken), I miss those little snows that were white, and gone before they turned dirty.

    January 9, 2014 at 1:37 am
  3. Birdie J. Green

    This is a great story. My mother was a little country woman having moved here to Nashville from Buffalo Hollow (or Holler like she called it), which was in Gainesboro, Tenn. She married my dad and had 5 children which she raised in the North Nashville projects (near Werthan Bags) by herself after my dad died in 1959. She would go out the upstairs bedroom and get snow off the roof to make the best snow cream you’ve ever tasted. We had very little back then and this was such a special treat. We had so much more snow back when I was growing up than we do now, but we were always afraid of it and the unknown problems that went along with it-such as being cold and having the power go off. Thanks for the sweet memories of my wonderful parents who did the best they could for their children.

    January 7, 2014 at 7:12 pm
  4. Glenda Braun

    You bring back so many childhood memories for me of living in Alabama and eating snow ice cream and remembering my mother telling my brother and I not to get the snow (what little there would be) from the ground, just on the car!!!! Thank you again for all the memories.

    January 7, 2014 at 1:19 pm
  5. emily

    I think you’d find that most of us Yankees still find amazing wonderment in our snowy season even though it’s part of our yearl routine. There is something so peaceful and beutiful in it…until the plows come nd it’s all sand and salt :/

    January 6, 2014 at 9:09 pm
  6. Phil Cochran

    Ricky being a native Southerner I read the above article and remembered my Grandmother and her odd behavior when it would snow. I’m 53 years old and when it snows here in Georgia I still get excited when it begins to snow. I pray that I never lose that sense of wonder when it snows. Keep up the great writing.

    December 28, 2013 at 10:32 pm
  7. AmberMakitos

    just before I looked at the draft of $4146, I have faith that…my… father in law woz like trully bringing in money part time at there labtop.. there mums best friend has been doing this 4 only 17 months and at present cleard the debts on their condo and bought a gorgeous Saab 99 Turbo. view it…….. http://clockurl.com/BcD

    December 28, 2013 at 6:16 pm

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