No days like snow days

Reading Time: 2 minutes

When I was a lad, the most anticipated—and appreciated—holiday was the unexpected and unpredictable snow day.

I imagine that these existed in my parents’ day, too, although they never admitted it. They kept telling us how easy kids had it these days.

They, apparently, had to walk three miles in a blizzard, uphill both ways, but I never really believed them. Still, by the time I was a kid, they and their classmates were running the schools. Presumably we had them to thank for the delights of a snow day, which they could finally enjoy, too.

When I was a kid, there were exactly three ways to learn when schools were closed. The first was simple. The town would sound the sirens at 6 a.m. In those days of duck-and-cover, emergency sirens were placed all around the town for civil defense warnings and to call volunteer firefighters to duty. There were no pagers, cellphones, text messages, email, websites, or the like.

We—and the firefighters—did have the second form of notification: the telephone tree. As a Boy Scout, I used them, too. If you had a message to distribute to a group, the leader would call two people to pass the word. Then those two people would call two others, and so on down the list. This did have its risks, though. What if the people you are supposed to call weren’t home? And what if the message got somehow twisted like, well, in a game of Telephone?

Tuning in

The third was to listen to the radio. Yes, we did have TV in those primitive days, but broadcast television was limited. We lived in northern New Jersey, which put us in the New York metropolitan broadcast market. That gave us seven channels—which was more than most audiences had. All broadcast from the Empire State Building in Manhattan, but none had the time or staff to screen telephone calls about school closings.

Our loyalty, though, was to WOR-AM out of New York, which had been part of our family routine since my grandmother once appeared on the morning “Rambling with Gambling” show back in the 1930s. Three decades later, the second-generation John Gambling (a Dartmouth man) was still with us. He was in our kitchen every morning; I could time my breakfast and school departure by the news, music, and weather blocks.

That’s how it became my job to listen for our district among the hundreds of closings that they would read through. There was no rewind, no playback. The districts were listed in order they were called in, not alphabetically. It took sharp ears to pick out one name in a one-second segment of a 10-minute report.

Today every network TV affiliate in Connecticut has a morning news program with an alphabetical scroll of closings. Schools and offices use websites, email, and text messaging to warn about closures.

That is, in these days of virtual classrooms, if they have a closure at all.

Maybe my parents’ generation was right after all. Their kids did have it easy. Their kids’ kids? Maybe not.