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When I was a kid, the first snowflake was cause for celebration

Donna Wetzel-Needy Sterner

It's one of those things you either love or hate. But, no matter which side of the fence you fall on, I think everyone misses it when there is none. I know I sit here in Dallas, Tx and watch every weather forecast and sniff the air for snow, especially around Christmas. The last time I got any "holiday snow" was 12/28/99.

I think we're overdue. But when I was a kid in Emmitsburg, the first snowflake was cause for celebration. My mother was glued to the radio that she kept on the kitchen table tuned to WTHU. Would there be school or not? I didn't have to listen to the radio or even look out of the window to gauge the snowfall. My dad got up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. and I could hear him cussing the snowplow for plowing in our driveway or blocking the mailbox if there was a fairly decent accumulation.

Some of my fondest memories are of waking up to see snow clinging to the limbs of the surrounding trees like so much cotton. My home was at 9320 Waynesboro Pike. Weldon Shank owned the property next to us. There were boulders to play fort in and monkey vines to swing on in the spring and summer. In the fall the long shadows filled our juvenile minds with ghosts and goblins. But after a fresh winter's snow, the slate was clean. The hill across the road was sledding central for us kids living out of town. A deep, soft snow would glaze over to make a perfect canvas suitable for framing.

Franklin Wastler & Mac MsGlaughlin

The Houck kids, Glenda McGlaughlin (her dad was Mac, the barber), the Saylor kids, the Toppers and little ol' me all had our share of frosty noses and wet gloves going down that hill that was so green in spring but so slick in winter.

I particularly remember a trip down when I was about 7 or 8. My adopted dad, Gilmore Needy, worked for Landis Tool Company in Waynsboro, PA. The trip up Route 16 was treacherous in winter even without a fresh snow. But that day there had to have a couple of dozen inches! Okay...so maybe my child's mind exaggerated the memory. But there was probably 4 inches.

Dad called in and decided to take me sledding. Well, when Dad was home he loved to make a BIG breakfast. There was bacon or sausage or ham and eggs, of course. But Dad was fancied himself a pancake aficionado so it was like having the International House of Pancakes in my very own kitchen. Only problem was that, while Dad was playing chef, the softly falling snow was turning to sleet and the temperature was falling. By the time we hit that field, you practically needed mountain climbing cleats. Dad bravely dragged the sled up the hill and told me to lay down on his back for the ride to the bottom. I did. But halfway down the hill it became apparent that Dad wasn't quite in control...and there was a barbed wire fence coming up fast. So I played the panicked kid card: I bailed. I couldn't even type what he said when he hit that fence. It would melt my keys. When Mom met us at the door to help me off with my boots, I thought she would die laughing! I do believe Dad had his hot cocoa Irished that day.

There was a pond a little farther down the road in another field and all the older kids couldn't wait for it to freeze solid so they could ice skate. I was never one for that. I was cursed with weak ankles and I wasn't a swimmer. Somehow gliding across frozen water with the equivalent of two glass cutters strapped to my feet in freezing weather just didn't appeal to me. I made my fair share of snow men on the front yard. And, when there wasn't snow but the weather was cold, I remember Dad driving us up to Charnita, (what is now the Carroll Valley Resort), to watch them blow snow for the ski trails. I'd have my eyes pressed to the cold window of Dad's Plymouth, wide eyed with wonder over the miracle of man made snow! My birth mom, Josephine Wetzel McKelvey, told me how she looked forward to First Friday Mass when she was attending St. Euphemia's in Fall and Winter. She said the Sister's would prepare real hot cocoa and toast with butter, cinnamon and sugar. It stills warms her memories. She still prefers the cold to warm weather to this very day.

When my oldest son, Gregory II, was just shy of 1 year old (1982), we had a huge snowstorm. We measured the snow that landed on my Mustang II at 13 inches! While my then husband was struggling to shovel out the driveway, Gregory II, was trailing around behind him with a toy snow shovel. All I could see of him was the little tassel on the top of his hat. I was like watching the little bouncing ball on the Mitch Miller Show! Even my 1976 Jeep CJ7 had problems moving that day. My son is now nearing 25 and stands nearly 6 feet tall so it would take an avalanche to play sing along with Mitch with him now. And when I talk to friends and relatives and they complain about the snow they're getting, I sit here a little saddened. I have no hills to sled down. Hot cocoa is usually instant and out of the box and there is no winter wonderland outside my window. I search the photo album that is my mind and I see the tinsel decorations that hung across the streets and around the fire hall. Their bright Christmas lights are softened by a light dusting of virgin snow. I see the yellow flash of the light atop the snowplow and hear the scrape of it's blade and the rattle of snow chains as it plowed over all my Dad's hard work on his driveway. I guess we don't miss what we've got till it's gone. Eat a snowflake for me folks.

Read other personal memories of life in Emmitsburg

Read Other articles by Donna Wetzel-Needy Sterner

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