By Hardy Jackson
We don’t get much snow down in deep Dixie.
That is why when we get it, we remember it.
And take pictures.
A while back my cousin Mary died. She was one of those wonderful small-town eccentrics who had grown old inspiring local gossip and embarrassing her “family” – mostly my Mama. Cousin Mary kept two dozen cats in a “kitty motel” behind her ramshackle house, right in the middle of town for all to see. Some were named after Confederate generals; some weren’t. She had more money than a Rockefeller, lived like a bag lady and worshiped Bear Bryant. Once, with my Auburn-fan Daddy’s encouragement, I gave her a bright crimson Alabama sweatshirt for her to wear on her morning dumpster-dives for aluminum cans — might as well embarrass Alabama fans as well as kinfolk. She bagged up the cans and put them on her front porch. Never sold them. Didn’t need to. When she died, she left over $1 million in cash, stock and property to the local Methodist Church — its reward, I think, for leaving her alone to do what she wanted to do.
She was also a photographer — and a pretty good one. After the funeral, I was assigned to go through the contents of her house, and there I found pictures of our little town, taken from the top story of the tallest house, photographs that captured the village early in the 20th century. Wonderful pictures of buildings long gone and streets now paved and prettified.
And why did she take these photographs?
Because it had snowed.
(You wondered when I was going to get back to snow, didn’t you?)
The point is, and yes there is a point, snow is important to folks like us simply because we don’t get much of it. And because it is important, we take pictures of things we normally would ignore. When was the last time you took a picture of your house, or your street? But let it snow and out you go with the camera.
Moreover, snow focuses us on a time and place, and fixes in our minds experiences and stories that are passed down (or should be) for generations.
The first snow I remember was 1948. We were living in Selma. I can close my eyes and see my Daddy trying to build a snowman. Mama made snow ice cream. Good memories.
Then there was the snow of 1964. I had driven to Meridian, Mississippi, to pick up my brother, who was coming in on the bus from Jackson. I drove Daddy’s pickup because it had mud-grip tires and there was talk of the roads getting bad.
As we got on the highway heading home, the snow started coming down in flakes as big as silver dollars. A few miles out of town the road disappeared — or would have if someone had not traveled it shortly before us and left ruts down the middle for me to follow. By the time we got to Alabama the windshield wipers had frozen. Stopping for gas we learned that the Tombigbee bridge we planned to cross was closed, so we detoured to an open one. Finally, six hours later, we got back.
The following day I awoke to a winter wonderland and took pictures.
Next year, there was another winter event, and for the first time I saw the temperature dip below zero. No one should ever be that cold.
Over the years, from time to time, snow has arrived to remind me why I chose to live down South rather than some place like Michigan. (My Confederate ancestors should have known better than to take on an army made up of men who could live happily in that climate.)
Then, after years in Georgia, I returned to Alabama, and in 1993, a few weeks after my newborn son came home from the hospital, the blizzard arrived. You remember it. Everyone who was here remembers it. I measured snow 12 inches deep on the patio and there were drifts twice that. Yet, somehow, while y’all were suffering without heat, electricity and water, we had all three. We even had cable.
And of course, we have pictures and stories.
Now, every winter, I watch the weather report and wait for snow. When the prediction comes, the kids get excited. Parents get out their cameras/cell phones.
Usually both are disappointed.
Most of Alabama just gets a “light dusting.”
No pictures, no stories, no memories.
That’s what you get when there is no snow.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.