No one had to tell Joshua Rhodes it was a special day.
You could see it in his step, each one intended to make the snow fly, as he sloshed hand-in-hand with his parents up the hill leading to the dam at Lake Elkhorn in Columbia on Thursday.
Sister Sheila raced ahead with her sled. And father, Wayne, lobbed snowballs in her direction. Not too close, but near enough to be a surprise. Sheila whirled, giggled and returned the compliment with some snow of her own.
Once atop the hill, Sheila wanted Joshua to join her on the first sled run.
Snow was up to Joshua's knees. It didn't matter that his mother, Dana, had gone to the bottom of the hill to catch him. From his vantage -- close to the ground -- the slope looked awesome.
Joshua became a shover instead. Now thatwas fun.
Just how old was this powerhouse, anyway? He held up a mitten-covered hand.
"Three-and-a-half," said 7-year-old Sheila. Joshua nodded in agreement. Talking could come another time. This day was for play.
For adults, the challenge was to avoid the slips and skids children find so exhilarating. For County Administrator Raquel Sanudo, it meant leaving home at 6:30 a.m. to beat the traffic.
The schools might have been closed, but county government was not. Employees had a five-day unpaid furlough earlier this year. Most were notgoing to take another day off just because of four inches of wet snow. Besides, County Executive Charles I. Ecker had called a meeting with department heads at 9 a.m. Everyone was present.
At the County Council, things were a little more lax. A scheduled 9 a.m. meeting was canceled, and council staff members varied their routines. Legislative assistant Joan Morgan, for example, was pressed into service as atelephone receptionist.
Morgan did fine as long as she merely answered phones. But by 10 a.m., she was having to transfer calls and put people on hold.
"Help!" she cried, and help she was given.
Bynoon, the snow had stopped and major roads were clear. Pristine hillsides were beginning to attract playful children. But at The Mall in Columbia, word that the storm was over seemed slow in coming. There were more sales people, it seemed, than customers.
The carousel on the second floor was also standing empty, having been used only once,a few minutes earlier, for five customers.
Kathy Magrogan, assistant manager at the County Seat apparel shop, said she had waited on only one or two people all day.
"Most people slept in," she said. "But they'll be here as soon as they get up and realize that school isclosed."
Alvin J. Wyrick, duty agent at Long and Foster's Columbia East office said agents usually take the day off when schools are closed, but not this one.
"Appointments are a little below normal, but people are still showing houses," he said.
At Pizza Bolis on Oakland Mills Road, all the delivery people were on the road.
"Are we busy? Yes!" Delisha Thompson said between phone orders. "Twice or three times as much as usual."
By 4 p.m., checkout lines at the Owen Brown Giant were long again. It was not snow, but the eve of Valentine's Day that was attracting the crowd, said Dave Ferraro, an assistant store manager.
"Just wait till tomorrow night," he said. "Allthe guys will be coming in." The big snow crowd came Wednesday, the night before the storm, Ferraro said.
Ferraro's Valentine theory appears to have merit. At the Dobbin Center K mart, the store was mostly empty except for a crowd of men and women in the valentine aisles.Cash register lines filled suddenly. Just one more thing to make thefirst snow of winter something special:
"Honey, you'll never knowwhat I went through to get you this card."