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February 24, 2014

There was just no telling about snow days

By Big Chuck D'Imperio
The Daily Star

---- — Winters get harder as we get older. Things change. It snows more. It snows less. It gets colder. It’s a lot milder. It all changes as our knees start to creak and the thought of shoveling a foot of snow seems positively daunting.

The concept of winter now versus winter then is all a matter of our mind. One thing that is not a subject for argument, however, is the idea of a “snow day.”

I am sick of them. Of course, teachers and students love them. But as a radio guy, believe me, I’ve had it with them.

Last week I came sauntering down the stairs to head off to the radio station shortly after 5 a.m. and I was surprised to see our 17-year-old on the couch. “What are you doing up so early in the morning, Joe?” I asked.

“Oh, the school just called me. They are closed today.”

The school just called him? I guess this is the cocoon I have lived in through four school-age kids. I am gone when all the action happens in the early-morning hours. I couldn’t believe that Joe didn’t wait to listen to me actually announce the school closing on the radio about an hour from now.

This really got me thinking. Look how much school snow days have changed since we went to school. Now the school calls the kids. Amazing.

I honestly cannot remember how we did snow days when I was a kid. In 1959, for example. I was 10. I simply cannot remember how we found out that school was closed that day. Was there a phone tree? Certainly not. I don’t remember my mother answering the phone and saying, “School is closed? Oh, thanks, Marge. I’ll call the Wilsons.” Never happened. Can you imagine the school secretary calling every family individually? On a rotary dial phone? Of course not.

We did have a radio in the house, and in those days it was tuned in to WDLA in Walton. I am sure they gave out school closings. The only problem was that we could never pick up the station when the weather was bad. We had a television set. We only had one station that came in clear at our home in Sidney, WNBF out of Binghamton. This was long before the “crawls” along the bottom of the screen announcing virtually anything and everything. I honestly cannot remember old Bill Parker or Ralph Carroll sitting in front of the screen, reading a list of closings, delays, early dismissals, etc. I don’t think that happened.

My wife is a bit younger than I am and I asked her about this. Trish told me that, when she was a kid, the family would gather around the radio and listen to WGY out of Schenectady for school closings. They did them alphabetically by county. By the time Otsego rolled around, it might as well have been spring.

So how did we know that a school was closed because of weather in the “old days?”

I asked my radio listeners about this. I think the best answer came from a lady who remembers that we did not have any snow days at all until the schools were centralized and kids started coming in on buses from outlying areas. That sounds about right. The advent of busing brought about the advent of snow days. Maybe.

I was lucky. I did not have to walk to school every day uphill three miles each way. No, I lived a block away from both my elementary and my high schools. But still, I have no recollection of how a snow day was declared way back then.

I think what really happened was this. I walked to school and noticed a sign on the door saying “Closed. No School. Go Home.” Yeah, that’s it. A handwritten sign made by the principal or the head custodian or whoever could make it in and stoke the furnace.

Whether that was the mode of communication or not, I can imagine myself slowly trenching through hip-deep snow up to the door of Pearl Street School in 1959. I’d wipe the snowy mist off the front door window and read the sign telling me to turn around. I would murmur a silent prayer of thanks and head back home. And all the while I would have a little smile on my frozen lips.

Snow days. I mean, did we even have any back then?

I’ll catch you in two …

“Big Chuck” D’Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7 to 9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.” You can find him on Facebook by searching “Big Chuck.” He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.