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When it Snows in the (Sub)tropics

1989 was a watershed year in my life. And not just because I started high school, though that was pretty major. In September of 1989 Hurricane Hugo came to our little city and knocked it senseless. Trees and homes swept up in a windy fury and dropped just as senselessly into muddy piles. Windows broken and roofs blown off. Childhood memories submerged and soaked. A bridge ripped from its moorings. Most of the area was without power for weeks, and we could not return to school until mid-October. The clean-up was hard. It was phsyically hard. It was emotionally hard. Because even after debris was cleared, the wound was still raw—our landscape had changed overnight.

As Christmas approached, I think the people of Charleston were tired and a little sad and just ready to put 1989 behind us. Then a funny thing happened.

Late on December 23rd, the sky was cloudy and the temperature had plummeted. Our already scarred surroundings had an especially bleak pallor. And then. A couple of wet flakes. And then more. And more. Into the night the snow came down. And when we woke on Christmas Eve, the city's cuts and scrapes had been coated in a fluffy white blanket of snow and hope. Six-to-eight inches came down in one night here—a place that goes years without seeing the first flake. Nature had shown us her bitter extremes in September, and in December she showed us her gentlest embrace. Once again, our landscape had changed overnight.

For the only time in my life (before or since), there was enough snow for snow men and snowball fights. Living in flatlands below sea-level, there was no sledding to be done, but that was fine. My sister and I didn't have proper clothes for playing in the snow, and so our mother put our feet in plastic bags inside our tennis shoes and bundled us in all the layers she could find. We still lasted only a few minutes at a time, but it was the happiest we'd been in months. A Christmas miracle, as they say.


2009 has been hard for a lot of people—and not just on the money and jobs front, though that's been about as bad as I can remember. From fires to floods to flu, I think a lot of people will be happy to say goodbye to this year. And while it may not snow in Charleston in 2009, my hope for us all during the holidays is that we each get a glimpse at that same kind of miracle as we usher in a new year and a new decade.

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Reader Comments (4)

Eight inches is certainly not much to many in colder climes, but for us that year it was truly a miracle. Thanks for reminding me. jam

December 24, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjam

My darling niece:

What beautiful words you can write. Your blog entry brought back so many memories as well as tears to my eyes. Thanks for the winter wonder memories.

Give Marsh Man a hug for me and tell him to email me one of his first photos.

I love you,

Auntie Em

December 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmily Marshall Turner

Wow. What a beautiful retelling of such a bleak time. I love how nature brings us back to center, even when nothing has truly changed but perspective. Happy New Year, Cameron! P.S. Even tho I grew up in southeastern PA, where we've seen plenty o snow, we all put bread bags on our feet before our boots all the time!

December 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdaisy janie

I love snow and I love hurricanes. yes, that sounds crazy, but I grew up in south louisiana and lived through my fair share of them, Andrew being the worst for us until Katrina and Rita in the same year. the mighty force of wind and rain just amazes me, i'm alternately thrilled and fearful at the same time. although after katrina, well...it will never be the same down there.

I've since moved north and have become fond of snow...such a complete opposite. so quiet, still and soft.

Nature truely is a beautiful thing, one of God's greatest wonders to me.

What a lovely post, thanks for sharing.

December 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpixie

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