Snow: My 78 in art class, and my eternal quarrel with winter

asnow@newsobserver.comDecember 14, 2013 

While clearing out some of the detritus in my life, I came across my fourth-grade report card.

It had been salvaged by a niece who learned that some old records were being thrown out at Boonville Elementary School.

How quaint. Back then our grades didn’t come in A’s, B’s, C’s, etc. The poor teachers had to average our grades in figures. I winced at the 78 on art. It stood out like neon, among the 80s and 90s.

Nobody – not I, nor my parents, nor teachers – knew then that I am colorblind. That’s why I received those low marks in art for coloring robin redbreast’s plump breast brown.

It was not until I was in the Air Force that my colorblindness was identified. Fortunately, my affliction kept me from becoming a tail gunner on a B-24 bomber and likely being killed in a raid over some Japanese munitions plant.

This I tell you by way of bringing up the recent Wake County schools’ issue over whether teachers should give zeros for unsatisfactory work or no work at all. There are legitimate pros and cons to this issue.

Oh yes, some of my back-then classmates cried openly on the last day of school when they looked at their report cards and saw written at the top “Not promoted.”

They cried for good reasons besides the humiliation. They would be parting with longtime friends. They would endure taunts from some insensitive classmates.

On the other hand, being retained might spur some students to greater effort or provide a better base for mastering the next grade.

Sending students to the next level unprepared can put them further behind. Even worse, unearned promotions can cheapen and/or falsify the basic concept that legitimate grades and graduation are what an education is all about.

The current concern for the well-being of a child’s psyche was not an issue when I was a child. Little effort was spent by parents or the culture itself to paint life differently from what it was, sometimes unpleasant.

Ban winter

Winter is my season of discontent. Not even Thanksgiving and Christmas can make it palatable to me.

The bitter cold, with daytime highs in the low 40s, cuts to the bone. Snow may be lovely to look at, but scraping it off frozen car windows or clearing steps and sidewalks is not my cup of tea.

Speaking of snowfall, I recall the time my late neighbors, Ed and Ruth Arden Green, traveling across the Midwest in their Airstream camper, were stranded in a near-blizzard.

They were tuned in to a ham radio conversation between two long-distance truckers.

“Where are you, Sam?” one asked, to which Sam replied, “I’m up to my yang-yang in snow up here in Minnesota.”

Having the mail delivered hours after dark is also irritating. Shortened hours of daylight are depressing.

Even my birds, with feathers fluffed against the cold, seem traumatized, sitting on the windowsill asking, “What’s for breakfast and where is it?”

Reader Don Miles shares this wintry vignette:

“This morning, Mr. Bluebird seemed perturbed by the thin coat of ice on the birdbath. Soon, clearly frustrated, he flew off.

“Mrs. Bluebird returned shortly, followed by the male. She patiently pecked a hole around the edge of the ice and they both drank up. Male fail? Or female common sense?”

I say female persistence. Men, when they first don’t succeed, are more likely to throw up their hands and abandon a project. Women keep pecking away until they succeed.

Sure, winter has Thanksgiving and Christmas to recommend it.

But to me, winter’s best feature is the winter solstice on Dec. 21. That’s when the earth starts turning its face toward the sun, lengthening daylight hours a few minutes every day and reassuring us that yes, no matter what the groundhog says in February, spring is on its way.

All I want for Christmas is the promise of spring.

On the rocks

I read recently that one of every two American marriages ends in divorce.

That statistic reminds me of a comment by the writer Kurt Vonnegut who pointed out that when people divorce because they don’t love each other anymore, it’s like “trading in a car when the ashtrays are full. When you don’t respect your mate anymore, that’s when the transmission is shot and there is a crack in the engine block.”

Snow: 919-836-5636 or

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