We were watching the news — another winter storm sweeping across the Northeast — when my 10-year-old son asked, "How do you make a snowman?"
How could he not know?
I grew up in D.C., where we got at least a couple of good snows every year, where my sister and I sledded and ate icicles. My husband grew up in New Jersey. He and his brothers played football in tall drifts and pelted each other with snowballs.
Some of our best "When I was a kid . . ." stories are covered with snow.
So when Tucker asked about a snowman, we realized how remiss we had been with our Florida boys' education. We have taken them to Vermont, to California and even Australia. But they had never played in snow.
Every kid should get to do that, so we promised our boys a road trip.
How far would a Florida family have to drive to find snow?
• • •
On the third Friday in January, we left St. Petersburg wearing T-shirts and flip-flops. It was so hot inside the minivan that we turned on the air-conditioning. With no school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day we would have four days to drive north, scout snow and get back home.
It took us a half-day just to escape the Sunshine State.
"We'll never make it," Ryland, 12, grumbled from the backseat.
All week, he had been watching the Weather Channel, charting the silver swirls. Eastern Tennessee, he told us, was our closest long shot.
As we crossed into Georgia, we turned off the air-conditioning. A half-hour later, we turned on the heat. It was 29 degrees that night in Tifton.
By Saturday, the forecast had shifted. There was a slight possibility flurries might fall over the North Carolina mountains the next night.
If we drove all day and made it to Asheville, we could wind our way north Sunday, chasing the chance.
The boys slumped in their seats all the way through Atlanta. In South Carolina we veered north, onto Interstate 26. There, along the craggy shoulders of the highway, icicles dangled from the rocks like crystal daggers.
Tucker took out his camera and shot through the rear window. Icicles as big as his arm, forests of trees that had lost all their leaves, horses bundled in blankets, frost in the fields.
Things he had only seen on TV.
Ryland turned off his portable PlayStation and gaped at the real world.
• • •
In the lobby of the Asheville Marriott, a sign said Sunday's high would be 28 degrees. A nearby ski resort called Wolf Ridge, the sign said, had a 50 percent chance of snow.
"And if it doesn't snow," said my husband, "at least we'll find the fake stuff there."
We were winding up the mountain the next morning when Tucker started shouting, "I see it! Look! Over there!"
On the sloped shoulder of the highway, outside a tiny town called Mars Hill, a smattering of snow spread across the rocks like a lace tablecloth.
"Is that really real?" Ryland couldn't believe it. "Like, the stuff in the movies?"
How could we have kept something this amazing from them? How lame was Florida, not to have snow? When we go to college, our boys declared, we'll move to Michigan or Massachusetts. Some place with snow, for sure.
• • •
Around the next crest Tucker spied a small hill blanketed by the white stuff. A blower was shut off on one side. Dozens of red and black inner tubes were slipping down the gentle slope.
As we pulled into the parking lot, gray clouds scuttled across the sky. We zipped our jackets and hurried to a shack by the port-a-potties, where you could rent an inner tube for $15 an hour. "Have fun," the man told us. "It's slick out there today."
We trudged up the hill, about as long as a football field, dragging our rubber rings on long leashes. When we got to the top, small flakes began to swirl around us, like dust particles. "What's that?" Tucker squinted at the sky. "What's going on?"
Dan laughed. Ryland's eyes got wide. The flakes got thicker.
"That," I told my boys, "is what we came for."
• • •
Our boys stuck out their tongues and tasted snowflakes for the first time. They chased each other up the slope, laughing at the crunching sounds their boots made. They saw the sun sparkling on the frosted firs, felt the cold snow melting on their flushed cheeks, dove onto their tubes and flew down the hill, spinning and shrieking, again and again.
The flurries turned into a storm. By the time our hour of tubing was over, a half-inch had piled up on the crusty hill. Ryland and Tucker pelted each other with snowballs, flopped on their backs and made snow angels. Tucker scooped enough powder to stack three little spheres the size of golf balls: the world's smallest snowman.
Then they were cold.
"That's all the snow I wanted," Tucker declared.
Three days, four states and 761 miles — that's what it took to find snow.
Two hours playing in powder — that was enough for this Florida family.
Lane DeGregory can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8825.