I grew up in Rock Hill, SC – and in Rock Hill, it never snowed. We would watch the skies hopefully whenever the forecast even hinted at snowfall, waking up and running immediately to the windows to look for a blanket of soft, frozen white. Mother Nature never seemed to come through for us, and we eventually grew cynical, rolling our eyes and scoffing at the meteorologists whenever they mentioned the prospect of a “wintery mix.”
But one year, sometime in the mid-1990′s, the conditions aligned. The skies opened up and the snow fell down and it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. We had a sled – I’m not sure why, because (like I said) it never snowed. But we had a sled, and we had one big hill in our neighborhood, and all the families converged on this one hill for this one day of fun in the snow.
I was wearing leggings under my jeans, a turtleneck under a sweatshirt under my jacket, and two pairs of socks (at least). I couldn’t put my arms all the way down to my sides. My glasses were constantly fogging up – big, thick bifocals with dark brown frames. I was cross-eyed without them and couldn’t take them off, so I just had to soldier through, swiping at them with my mittens and pulling my scarf away from my face to breathe.
We crunched through the fresh snow and I was thrilled by the newness of my footprints in the smooth, white blanket. The world seemed brighter than it ever had before, and I couldn’t open my eyes all the way. Everything was muted and louder at the same time – quiet enough that we could hear other families coming from streets away, still enough that we could hear the individual snowflakes hitting the trees and piling on top of the mailboxes and driveways.
My mom rode down the hill with me, holding on to me tight. She was on the back of the sled and I was “steering.” I remember being scared because I had no idea what the sled would do or how it would feel when we inevitably fell off. Dad gave us a push and we careened down the hill, laughter bubbling up in my chest as soon as we started moving. We landed awkwardly in the drift at the bottom and tipped over in slow motion. The fall didn’t hurt, and the ride was like Christmas morning – thrilling and delightful and over way too fast.
Once we were frozen through, fingers aching and cheeks raw from the wind and the snow, we made the trip back home. We were colder and slower than on our trip to the hill, and the untouched snow was carved through with footprints and tire tracks – but there was no less magic in the air. My glasses steamed up one more time as we came through the back door, shedding our snow-caked layers and heading straight for the kitchen to sip hot chocolate, thaw our hands, and count down the hours until we could go outside and do it all again.
The snow melted by the next morning. I hope the memories never will.