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Williams column: The March snows of 1960

By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
Just recently, we finally had a falling of snow which could be referred to as modestly appreciable, although comparatively thin. Prior to that, this winter’s precipitation had consisted of only a scattering of crystalline flurries, not even enough altogether to approximate the depth of a single layer of cheesecloth, much less that of a “blanket.” In those prior, couple occasions of “flurrying” seen by me, the geometric singleness of each snowflake remained pristine from its origin in the sky to its melting in the soil or on the sleeve of my jacket (in other words: from birth to death). In this most recent, although quickly melting, snow, each crystal was preserved collectively for a while, although individually “lost” with trillions of its kindred in a ranging, inch-depth layer of anonymous white.
A couple of winters ago, we had a few examples of the volume of snow which I experienced in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The ages of the people with memories of those much-earlier snows can be clustered on a bell curve representing all who were alive then. I’m glad that the “slope” of my age at that time meant that I had reached sufficient sentience to guarantee my memory of them!
In such reminiscence, one year stands out, not just for me, but for many: 1960. On March 5, 1960, I turned 9 years of age. My mother had planned a birthday party for me with my invited neighborhood friends, but snow began falling heavily, and it was “sticking” (some “meteorological” terms can’t be improved upon; they just work). As the blizzard’s magnitude increased, the likelihood of my party, like the snow, was falling. My mother called the families involved to make a possible rescheduling, but the children insisted on celebrating my birthday, so they came through the snow, carrying presents.
Due to the snow’s quantity and the month’s low temperature, it stayed around, being added to by another “blizzard” the following Wednesday. That Wednesday was the beginning of epic snowfalls, occurring like clockwork every following Wednesday in March, causing the names of that day, month and year to be forever linked in a memory-dream of what an idealized winter should always be!
It was as if the cold were in collusion with the snow, not just to guarantee the snow’s preservation, but to provide the children with many school-less days that month.Though there were sunny days following each mid-week’s snowfall, they weren’t of the “degree” to effect much melting. Following the later, overall departure of that which had fallen, there were still, for a good while, traces of “shadow-snow” next to our house, and also beside the “house” in which our chickens had once resided.
During that historic winter precipitation’s month-long heyday, I remember playing out in the front yard of my home in sunset-colored snow, when one of my parents announced to me that which had just been announced to them from WSAT Radio: “Rowan County Schools closed tomorrow!” A word can be repeated to the extent that it becomes a cliche, but during March of 1960, the repetition of that late sunset scene in my front yard was of sufficient frequency that it became a cliche as well!
Due to the particular weather conditions that month of that year, each snow would end with some sleet and freezing rain. Every icy, final, enclosing crust of each snowfall would have to be broken through to obtain snow for the fashioning of snowmen or the making of snowballs. By the end of March 1960, every time that I went outside to play, my feet would cause a loud cracking noise as I stepped and broke through the first layer of ice, a sound repeated as I broke through the series of layers below, each repetition of that sound becoming more muffled the further my feet sank.
Earlier in the month, my birthday cake had consisted of a couple of layers, but my yard’s “snow-layer cake” into which I stepped by month’s end, consisted of a few more, each sealed in its covering of hardened “frosting.” As I walked and crunched, I noticed that after the deepest of the muffled crunching noises, my feet would take turns, settling briefly and quietly on something firm and silent (but not quite as firm as the ground), after which no more sounds of breaking ice could be heard.
At the furthest depth of my step-driven, downward glance, the lowest, ground-level cushioning of white could briefly be seen as I raised each foot to step again. What I saw deposited there was the same thing which I had seen falling groundwards on the fifth of that month: The earliest of the March snows of the year 1960, the still-preserved snow of my 9th birthday party!

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