Ohio Means "Good Morning"
As printed in Proteus, the Journal of the Delaware Valley Mensa (Nov 2009)

            I was 11 years old when I moved from Maryland to Ohio. Every child old enough to spell “Chesapeake” knew that Baltimore/Washington-area snow virtually guaranteed a one- to two-hour school delay, if not a glorious, sledding-filled, full day cancellation. Therefore, when I awoke to my first view of Ohio’s snowflakes one autumn morning, I presumed them to be no less powerful than Maryland's and returned to a contented half-sleep. Would we be free for one hour? Two? The whole day? I would concern myself with such things after my nap.

            About twenty minutes passed before I was re-awakened by the percussion section of my mother’s on-her-way-to-work orchestra. Her rhythmic, clicking footsteps passed my door, then abruptly stopped. Through my eyelashes, I saw her head leaning back to assess the situation.

            "What are you doing?" she asked.

            Was this a trick question? Confused, one hand clutching the comforter to my chin, I pointed to the window with the other. "It's snowing."

            "Did you hear on the radio that school was cancelled?"


            "Was it on TV?"

            Sensing doom. "Uh...no."

            "Get up." Poof. She vanished. Clicking resumed.

            That "Get up" was stated with not-unpleasant finality. She understood why I was in bed, but trouble would follow if I were still there upon her next fly-by. I sat up and turned on the radio.

            I tended to skew towards optimism from a young age, and genuinely believed that the cancellation notices were merely late. I tried TV, but the news programs all betrayed me. I began to understand. Of course. There was a covert, Ohioan method of school delay notification that involved neither television nor radio. Fair enough. As the secret society had not yet approached me to commence initiation, I had no choice but to get dressed and ready. Needlessly, to be sure. I looked forward to being back in bed in no time at all. Meanwhile, why not wait ten minutes or so at the empty bus stop for good measure?

            To my open-mouthed astonishment, all of the other kids were already there. Welcome to Ohio.

            What kind of place was this? No snow days? Well, there were. Two. In six years. In Maryland we might have two in six days. My introduction to "the snow belt" of Northeast Ohio was a two-term course in Meteorology and Resentment. Over time, I learned to differentiate a blizzard from a squall. I learned to choose Halloween costumes that could be worn over winter gear. I learned that wet hair can freeze into curly icicles in the time it takes to walk two blocks, and that three blocks once meant frostbite and a trip to the hospital for an un-hatted classmate. I learned to blame our neighbors to the north for their role in the "lake effect snow" that covered us from October to March. To this day I refuse to eat Canadian bacon. Well, in all honesty, that is because Canadian bacon is nasty.

            One of the more practical lessons of M&R 101 was that snowplows would never fail to spoil every morning of my first winter in this town. A morning DJ once quipped that, where some cities had two inches of snow on the roads, ours had two inches of salt. Sure, fine, there were probably fewer accidents as a result. I suppose the area may have been better off with residents who could get to and from work. And, OK, snow days in other towns came at a price. Summer vacation at my old school was always delayed to make up for days lost in the winter. Yet my 11-year-old self cared about none of this. All she could see was a sadistic world where a kid had to spend a beautiful, snowy morning in math class instead of hurtling downhill on a plastic disc.

            A few years later, I traveled with my Model UN club to a conference at Georgetown University. Two of Washington D.C.'s favorite morning news anchors chattered in the background as four high school girls in one hotel room attempted not to collide. Someone glanced at the television from afar and asked, "What's going on? There are all these listings at the bottom of the screen." I ducked under my curling iron to glance behind me, immediately recognizing the cobalt blue, horizontal bar filled with tiny, white lines of writing. Hello, old friend. "Those are school closings," I said, turning back to the mirror. 

            "School closings? For what?"

            "The snow."

            But for me and the news anchors, all motion ceased. I knew what the other girls were thinking. They had seen that it was snowing, but, clearly, if schools were closing, then a freak blizzard must have hit DC in the last ten minutes. Such sudden, record snowfall must be making national news. What must our parents be thinking? The stun lasted only a second before the girls rushed to the window and pushed aside a curtain, desperate to gaze upon the epic storm.

            I knew as I leaned towards the mirror, arranging my bangs just so, that my friends were behind me glaring down at what any Clevelander would have called "a little snow." That translates into an inch and a half, maybe two. Blow dryers and pantyhose hung, forgotten, in bewildered hands as my roommates attempted to process the scene. Then, one by one, they turned to me with looks of disgust mingled with disbelief. The first to regain speech pointed a can of mousse accusingly towards the window, demanding, "They close school for this?!"

            I sighed, knowing precisely how absurd it must have seemed to them. Not long before, I was the one asking, "They don't close school for this?!" Two worlds begged to be reconciled, and as unofficial ambassador of this foreign land, it was up to me to explain lower mid-Atlantic weather patterns and non-“snow belt”-affiliated road crews to three girls who had never spent a winter outside of the Midwest. I would embrace my role in due time. First, though, there was hair to be done. And on this urgent matter, region be damned, every one of us could agree.

This piece was selected to be a "Feature of the Month" in the online edition of Mensa for Kids, where an abridged version appeared in February, 2011.