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Sissies in the Midwest


We Midwesterners have turned into winter weather wimps. Never mind that our front-wheel, four-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles treat us far better in the snow than the two-wheel-drive models most of us old enough to remember drive-in movies grew up with; we seem content to leave the Hummer parked in the garage. Apparently, we’re afraid the rock salt the street crews apply to keep us from sliding into the next township will damage the behemoth vehicle’s paint, which, of course, begs the question: What’s the point of having a military vehicle if it doesn’t look as if it’s been through a war?

We formerly winter-hardy folk have allowed ourselves to become sissified by the extreme weathermen (and women) who use their Mega Doppler, Super Doppler and My Doppler is Better than Your Doppler systems to scare us into hibernation. It used to be that when “extreme” and “Weathermen” were mentioned in the same breath, it was a safe guess the story was about hippies gone haywire, the militant rich kids who, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, bombed government buildings and corporate headquarters, held up armored trucks and aided other lawless radicals in jail breaks to – you had to be there to understand it, and even then, you probably didn’t – advance civil rights and promote peace. Now the weathermen (and women) only make approaching storms seem powerful enough to topple buildings.

It might be a good exercise to divide the snowfall total predicted by the meteorologists by the decibel level of their voices and then multiply that total by the number of times they break into programming to tell us, “Hey, it’s still snowing,” to get a number that will tell us whether we stay inside or go out.

I didn’t do the math a couple of weeks ago and woke up to disappointment. Where was this terrorist-sized storm? Admitted, the storm resulted in more than a skiff of snow. But it was hardly the storm of the century, or even the decade.

Yet schools had announced late starts and closings before the first snowflake fell, and when the promised shock and awe failed to materialize and we received a fairly typical snowfall, some of them looked a little foolish. In a litigation-prone society, it was probably a case of erring on the side of caution. That’s a shame, and not just because school could be in session until sometime around the Fourth of July. Their skittishness is robbing children of memories that will warm them for years to come.

When I was a second-grader, reluctance by the administrators to dismiss school early because of a blizzard resulted in what some people called a near catastrophe, but I call a great story. A couple of dozen of us were still on the bus when it became hopelessly stuck in the snow in white-out conditions and frigid temperatures. We formed a human chain and trudged to the nearest farmhouse, occupied by my family’s neighbors the Shipleys, where we spent the night and most of the next day. I don’t remember what the Shipleys fed their unexpected guests, or where we all bedded down for the night, but I do remember the atypical camaraderie between the older and younger kids. I also remember that the Shipley twins, a year older than I, were home with the measles and we all took the red spots to our respective homes.

No parents sued the school for putting their darlings in harm’s way. No one even thought about it. They just accepted the simple truth about living in the Midwest in the winter: It snows, sometimes a lot, and life can’t stop because of it.

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