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Dana Bassett

The White Christmas That Almost Wasn’t

By Dana Bassett

 As a displaced New Englander, originally from New Hampshire and now living in the Atlanta, Georgia area, the memories of a white Christmas return each holiday season. Being a single father of two pre-school boys, Tyler (age 5) and Chase (age 4), the dreams of a snowy Christmas are shared with enthusiasm, but too often also with disappointment.

As the leaves slowly fell from the trees and the north wind stiffened Tyler would ask, “Will it snow soon?” and Chase queried, “Will there be snow for Christmas?” There are many days during the north Georgia winters that are cold enough to snow, but rarely does snow actually fall. I told the boys I would take them to the mountains one day to see the snow. They told me how they wanted me to show them how to make snowballs, snow angels, snow forts, and most of all how to make a snowman. And of course they wanted to sled down a hill.

On December 20th, 2004 I sat in the kitchen searching the weather forecasts on the Internet on my laptop computer. It looked like another ‘brown’ north Georgia Christmas was in store with temperatures most of the week reaching the high 50’s during the daytime. But what’s this? On the evening of the 23rd a strong cold front was forecast to move through the area. By Christmas Eve temperatures were forecast to drop into the low 20’s with highs on Christmas Day reaching only the low 30’s. Wow. Nice and cold, I thought. Perfect for snow if only the weather would provide some moisture. But the skies would be only partly cloudy, with no precipitation forecast. If only there were a way to make snow at home, I pondered. I clicked to the ‘search’ page and entered “snowmaking” and scrolled down the list of results. A few clicks later revealed a home snowmaking machine, but at a cost of over $2,000.00.

By now Tyler was at my side looking at the pictures of snow as I searched again. This time I entered “snowmaking at home” and found the SNOWatHOME.com website. Tyler and I were amazed to find the SG4-LED snowmaking machine. I read aloud the details - I had the required pressure washer but would need to purchase an air compressor. Tyler was so excited at the idea of making snow at our own home for Christmas, he ran to tell his brother, Chase. But it looked like the Christmas budget wouldn’t allow it. Earlier in the month of December my employer, a major airline, had imposed a pay cut of one third of my pay, so the financial belt-tightening had begun. I told Tyler we could not afford the machine this year. A few minutes later Tyler asked, “Is this enough money?” he had taken money from his wallet and neatly lined up the bills and coins on the floor. A few minutes later he had lain out even more coins and bills and again asked, “Is this enough?”. He repeated this exercise several times until his wallet was emptied and I told him “we’ll see” and we went to bed for the night.

That evening before falling asleep my mind drifted to the memories of snowy Christmases past. I recalled my own childhood joys of snow fort-making and sledding, and the shear beauty of waking to a world of white on Christmas morning. I remembered how Christmas wasn’t the same without snow, and how it still doesn’t feel like a ‘real’ Christmas without snow. I knew that a white Christmas for Tyler and Chase would be something they would always remember. Then, just as sleep began to take hold, I made the decision to call and order the SG4-LED snowmaking machine in the morning. An early morning phone call to Ken at Sow At home the morning of December 21st was most informative. Ken explained how the unit is set up and the specifics of what type of air compressor and pressure washer I would need. In order to receive the machine by Christmas Eve it would have to be shipped via DHL overnight at a cost of $60, due to the late date of my order. A few minutes later the order was complete and I set out to buy an air compressor.

DHL picked up the SG4-LED on the afternoon of December 22nd at the Connecticut office of Snow At Home with delivery to my Georgia address scheduled for December 23rd. As the DHL truck pulled out a strong winter storm pushed into the upper Midwest United States. The storm bore down on the central states over the next day, dumping up to three feet of snow in central Ohio, ironically the same place the DHL package was being sent for transfer at the shipping center before it’s trip to Atlanta. By the morning of the 23rd the shipment had not yet arrived at my home. Aware that the storm had likely caused the delay, I called DHL to check on the status of the shipment. I was concerned that with only hours remaining until Christmas Eve, our dreams of a white Christmas would be unfulfilled again, this time by a snowstorm in Ohio! The DHL representative I spoke with was very helpful and courteous and assured me that the shipment would arrive the next day, Christmas Eve. He also promised to waive the shipping fee, a most generous offer since the snowstorm was Not the fault of the company!

Just before noon on the morning of December 24th the package arrived. I curiously assembled the stand and set it up alongside the pressure washer and compressor at the top of the front lawn. The yard in front of the house has a gentle sloping hill to the street in the Cul De Sac and would provide an excellent spot for sledding. As I hooked up the water hose our ten-year-old neighbor, Thomas, came over to see what in the world I was doing. When I explained told him I was going to make snow he looked at me in disbelief. He ran back to his house and returned a few minutes later, “My Mom says you can’t make snow”, he said. I wondered if it would work to, so I just said, “we’ll see”.

The tense hours wondering if the machine would arrive in time had passed and now everything was ready -except- the weather was still not cooperating. The cold front had passed through the area the previous night, but the coldest air had not arrived yet. As the winter sun set around 5:30 pm the temperature remained at 42 degrees. It seemed doubtful that the temperature would drop enough to make snow, and again our hopes of a white Christmas were in doubt. By 8 pm the temperature had dropped to 37 degrees and seem to refuse to drop lower as a blanket of clouds moved over the night sky, blocking the coldest air from moving in. Finally, just after 10 pm the wind from the north picked up and the sky cleared, cold winter stars pierced the blackness above, and the temperature began to drop. The moment of truth had arrived.

It was time to start up the snow making machine. The tension was palpable. Would this really work? The pressurized water and air began pumping out from the nozzles of the SG4. Since I was using a strong pressure washer, rated at 2600 psi, I had braced the front legs of the stand as instructed with bags of gravel and some bricks so the force would not tip it over. Almost immediately a white mist rose into the cold night sky as the pressurized air and water mixed. Within minutes the grass on the front lawn was turning white. As the temperature continued to drop into the 20’s the quantity of snow increased.

Shortly after 1030 pm the previously skeptical neighbor Thomas cam running up the driveway screaming, “This is great!” “All my relatives are visiting and they can’t believe you’re making snow! “ “Will it cover the whole Cul de Sac?” “No, not the whole Cul de Sac, Thomas,” I answered, “but it will cover my lawn”, I grinned. Around 11:30 pm I tried switching from the gasoline powered pressure washer to a small electric powered on so that it could run all night, quieter and unattended. But the smaller pressure washer did not have the standard 22mm coupling need to hook up to the unit, it had a permanently attached wand for small cleaning jobs, so I committed myself to running the gas powered washer all night.

Shortly before midnight two local police cars were parked at the bottom of the driveway. I thought perhaps I was making too much noise or creating some sort of public safety hazard, although the snow was just beginning to whiten the edge of the private street. Maybe I had violated some ordinance that “prohibits the making of snow within city limits”. But the officer’s interest was only one of curiosity bordering on amazement. This is the South, and you just don’t see snow everyday, especially when it is only in one front yard! The officers Thought the snowmaking machine was great. Apparently one of the officers was on a routine patrol and noticed the snow and called other officers on the radio to tell them about it.

Throughout the night a police car would pull up and stop, the office staring at disbelief at the magical white scene. As the front yard slowly transformed from a dull brown to a blanket of white I stood transfixed in the cold night, overcome with a mixture of disbelief and elation. I ended up staying up the entire night, going inside to wrap gifts and place them under the tree, and returning outside to refill the fuel in the pressure washer. After placing the final gifts beneath the tree and setting up the train Santa had brought for the children it was time to check on the snowmaking again.

Now at just past 3 am the coldest air had moved in and the breeze was light. The gentle wind shifted the snow’s trajectory from the machine and covered the trees and shrubs surrounding the front of the house. Finally, just as the sun began to lighten the cold morning sky around 630 am, Tyler and Chase awoke and cam down the stairs to be greeted by their first ever White Christmas! Their excitement of seeing all the Christmas presents beneath the tree was matched by their awe at the scene outside the window. There was snow blowing through the air as the SG4 continued its work, nearly obscuring the view to the street with snow. The lawn was covered with 5 to 6 inches of snow near the top of the hill, and the white blanket extended some 75 feet to the street. Even before we sat down to open the presents Tyler insisted on going outside to see the snow. He hastily pulled on his boots and winter jacket and mittens and ran outside, screaming with delight!

After breakfast and opening our presents, we spent the rest of Christmas day sledding and making a snowman, snow angels, and having a snowball fight. I couldn’t believe how well the SG4 had performed, well beyond my expectations.

As we sat by the fire that night, Tyler and Chase said they had “the best Christmas ever”. I knew this would be a Christmas they (and my neighbors) would not forget, that memories for a Lifetime were created that special day. Finally they had experienced the elusive “White Christmas in Georgia”, the White Christmas that almost wasn’t!

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