The Eighty-Fifth Letter: Snow Day

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Dear Daughters,

There is no snow on the ground today, but the public schools called off because of potential ice hazards.

I heard the rain in the wee hours of the morning, the rain that was supposed to turn over to wintry mix and ice, and I couldn’t stop from checking my phone when I got up to go to the bathroom whether schools were cancelled.

That’s probably a weird compulsion, my wanting to know about cancellations that don’t really impact my life at all, other than the fact that our church activities get cancelled if school is called off on a Wednesday. But as a general rule, our family is not impacted by the public school cancellation policy. It’s one of the beautiful things about homeschooling.

But, still, I always check the delays and closings tab on the local news website because I have to know if schools are closing. It’s silly.

I think it’s probably because I remember what it’s like, that excitement of finding out school had been cancelled for the day. I remember lying in bed in the still-dark morning, trying to listen for the scrape of snow plows on our usually busy street where I grew up in central Pennsylvania. The traffic sounds were slower on those mornings, more muffled, but it was the scrape I was listening for.

I can still hear that sound clearly in my mind, even though here in Kentucky our street rarely gets plowed, and when it does, it’s usually a pick-up with a plow hooked onto it.

Y’all, it’s not the same thing.

Later you can tell me how mean I am about this, but I don’t actually give you snow days “off” this year. Not completely off at least. If there’s actual snow on the ground, I do let you take breaks to go play in it. And we make hot cocoa. And we spend a lot of time looking out the windows. Still, I make you do our minimum school activities of reading, piano practice, and having family readaloud time.

Even on “snow” days.

On Monday, I was brushing about an inch of light, super-fluffy snow off of the car to head to piano lessons. (Public schools had cancelled but the slush had already melted off the roads by 10 am.) As I cleared the car, I noticed just how beautiful the snow was. I could see the little crystals of snow stacked up with air between them, or so it looked to me as I fluffed them away with the broom.

When I pulled the car forward so that your door lined up with the sidewalk your dad had salted before he left for work, to keep you from traipsing through the snow, I was thinking about how rarely I have to drive in bad weather, and how my perspective about what constitutes “bad” weather has significantly changed since I was a teenager.

What I mean is, I’m a big wimp.

One time when I was in high school, after a two-hour delay, I was driving to school with my friend Olivia in the passenger seat. There was a lot of snow on the roads, way more than I would drive in now, and at one point, I pulled from a minor neighborhood road onto a busier street that headed down hill, and as I made that turn, the car just drifted right off the road into a snowbank on Olivia’s side. Well, first, the car glided completely out of my control into head-on traffic but then turned the other way and drifted into a snowbank without, thankfully, hitting any other cars. But there we were when the car came to a stop, us hyperventilating a bit, the car smushed into the snowbank.

I wonder if Olivia still remembers that one.

I wonder why the heck I was allowed to drive my car in that kind of weather.

I am pretty sure I would have a panic attack now if anyone asked me to drive with that much snow on the road. I am not exaggerating.

Because my perspective has changed. Also because I’m a wimp now. No shame.

During my undergraduate years at Houghton College, I can remember going out to my car, parked behind Walldorf House, and needing to clear more than a foot of snow off the top of it. Clear a path to the exhaust pipe, clear off the whole area around the drivers-side door, turn the car on so it would start melting ice as it warmed, and then the long slow process of pushing the heavy snow off the hood, the windshield, the roof. I have rarely seen snow like that as an adult. Thank goodness. My mental health is more stable because of it.

The problem really is that we moved to Texas the summer after we graduated from Houghton. And after four years in Texas, we moved to Kentucky, where we’ve been now for almost ten years. And okay, in Kentucky we occasionally get crazy ice but rarely the kind of snow I used to have to dig my car out of.

I won’t compare the quality of the roads or the abilities of the drivers by region because it isn’t fair. Kentucky’s resources for winter care of the roads are limited.

But I’m honestly happy to live in a place that basically shuts down at the threat of snow. The flexibility of our normal days, your schooling, my working, our life together, makes it so that snow days and hot cocoa add a beauty to our life, not a stress. If the roads happen to be “bad,” or its too cold for the 1999 Volvo’s engine to start, your dad just bundles up and walks to work.

And if school is cancelled on a day when there is absolutely no bad weather, like today? Well, we just go about a normal day.

Except church was cancelled.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

 

The Thirty-Second Letter: Where I’m From

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Dear Daughters,

Even before you were born, I wondered what it would be like to raise children in Kentucky.

And by in Kentucky, I mean anywhere that isn’t Pennsylvania.

What would it be like to have children with a slight twang in their speech, who pay attention to Kentucky basketball, who drink Ale8, don’t drive in the snow, say “put up” for “put away” and  “I don’t care to” for “I really am okay with doing that”?

I’m only partially joking.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be “from” a place.

A few weeks ago, I drove you to Pennsylvania to be with family for a week, and I was reminded (a) how much I myself hate to drive in the snow and (b) how much I love central Pennsylvania.

I love the tunnels on the Turnpike that take you through mountains, especially the REMOVE SUNGLASSES sign at the mouth of the tunnels. I love the roads carved out of rock, and how the waterfalls freeze as they pour down from the mountains above. I love the width of the Susquehanna River, the old house on Front Street where I used to babysit for a wealthy family, the quirky miniature Statue of Liberty on her own proud platform in the middle of the river. I love the old dying rural towns, the 3-story row homes along tight curvy roads, the metal bridges, the piles of dirty snow that take forever to melt.

Driving on those skinny roads, through those dying towns, I was surprised just how much it felt like “home” to me.

And, at the same time, how much I felt like a stranger.

Because that’s the way it works, girls, when you move away from somewhere. There is both a beauty in going back and a sadness in going back.

I don’t know what it’s like to live as an adult in Pennsylvania, to be married and raising a family there. I’ve owned two homes, but neither of them in a blue state. Though still pretty young, I’m quickly approaching the point at which I will have spent more years away from Pennsylvania than the number I lived there before heading north to college. It was four years in New York, four years in Texas, and now, gulp, eight years here in Kentucky.

That’s just craziness.

Inspired by Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon’s poem, “Where I’m From,” my writing group helped organize an event at our local arts and cultural center this week. We encouraged members of our local community to write their own meditations about where they’re from and then gather together Monday night for a time of sharing and reflection. And eating, of course. Always eating.

Among the small group who came out to listen and share, it turned out that the majority were transplants–if not from out of state, at least from a different part of the state, and that means a lot in Kentucky. But here we all were, reflecting on our roots, sharing stories that resonated across generations, across families, across hometowns. There were so many similarities in the reminiscences, and not just in the serenading song of the poems, but in their substance. So many strong women. So many shared cultural references. So much community influence, cultivation of the land, hope and religion and faith, watering the deep roots that get us through suffering. These were the themes that I heard over and over again, no matter where the speaker “was from.”

It was a powerful evening because these are powerful stories.

Here’s the poem I wrote for the occasion:

I’m from right-leaning, Jesus-loving, question-asking people.

I’m from silos on barns, blue gills and

sunnies in the pond, choose your own adventures.

I’m from “Can He, Could He, Would He?” and

“My Mommy Told Me Something,”

DC Talk and Trisha Yearwood,

praise music on a stage and turned-my-nob-to-BOB94.9.

I’m from a coach bus paid for by love offerings, gospel music

sung to cassette tracks on feedback-heavy church sound systems.

I’m from dippy eggs and pancakes, Heinz ketchup

on scrambled eggs, on macaroni and cheese, on everything,

cider vinegar on French fries, sauerkraut at New Years.

I’m from functional dysfunction, four good parents, in the land of

Hershey’s Chocolate, Gettysburg Battlefields, Sheetz gas stations, Amish country.

I’m from crayfish at the base of Stony Creek Dam, cracks in a sidewalk

instead of a front yard, swimming in Grandma’s above-ground pool.

I’m from through-the-night drives to Florida for Christmas,

New Hampshire for fourth of July,

singing the alto line with Mom, saying “PA” instead of Pennsylvania.

I’m from after-school specials, Saved By the Bell, and TGIF,

cut-up magazines and hand-markered poetry posterboard, stapled

to the horsehair-plaster walls above my waterbed.

I’m from learning how to type in elementary school,

post-Columbine security, the first generation

of cell phones that did nothing but make calls.

I’m from prayers when I was sick but three-times-a-day

penicillin for recurring UTIs, a grandma who quilted

the United States of America, a daddy who could cook.

I’m from Psalm 23, John 3:16, Caesar Augustus’s decree that all the world should be taxed, recited in kindergarten.

I’m from dinner around a table, memorized commercial jingles and sitcom theme songs, wanting to be a paleontologist but preferring to read than to get dirty.

I’m from people who love me, kiss hello and goodbye, sometimes three smooches and nibbles on ears; women with perms, men going gray, cousins aging so quickly my breath catches when I see them, once a year, if I’m lucky.

I’m from people whose faith I envy, who believe even now, when it’s hard to believe, who love me even now, though they can’t quite remember

if I live in Tennessee

or Kentucky.

***

Yes, that last bit was a joke. But it’s true. For some reason, Pennsylvanians seem to get Kentucky and Tennessee perpetually confused.

It amuses me.

Anyway, I still don’t know what makes you “from” a place. I’ve got a much simpler life trajectory than some of my friends who were raised on the mission field, for example, who have lived in many places across the globe, across the country, without a centralized location for extended family. But even so, I feel the push and pull of living somewhere I love that still doesn’t feel like “home.”

I do love Kentucky. It is your home. It is my home.

But it doesn’t feel like home.

Not yet.

Love,

Your Momma