Before the winter wind brings the snow, it brings sleet. Not nearly as lovely and quite a bit more sinister, sleet is usually seen as a negative thing. It's the icy glaze that weighs down roofs, takes down even the most stately of trees and leaves the roads dangerously slick.
But when that sleet falls on a metal roof and the old house creaks in the wind, it can be one of the most comforting sounds in the world.
That magical sound
Before I was far too young to understand the treasures of an old house, I certainly understood the joys of rain and sleet on a metal roof. As the grandchild of doting grandparents, I had my own bedroom in their old farmhouse, which was just down the road from my mother's equally old farmhouse. My mother's farmhouse had shingles. But my grandparents had a metal roof -- "that old tin roof," as my grandmother would say.
It was an interesting shade of red that looked suspiciously like rust. It had been patched here and there, but it kept the house warm and leak-free. It creaked ominously after dusk, as though it were stretching in relief after a long day of that battering sun. Footsteps echoed on the roof if my brothers tried to climb onto it, which they did quite often in an attempt to reach the highest branches of the massive oak tree. (Apparently they fancied themselves superheroes!)
The sounds of sleet transformed the roof. Not the snow that fell so gently on the roof that we couldn't hear it. Not the rain that battered the roof in a constant rhythm that became a pretty, albeit boring, monotone. No, it was the sleet that I loved, for two reasons: First, it was the harbinger of winter, the sound that meant soon the snow would arrive. But secondly, and most importantly, it was the sound.
The falling of sleet on an old tin roof is one of those sounds you will never hear anywhere else. It's musical in a way that can't be duplicated by any instrument. For those of us who grew up in old houses, it's the sound of comfort and excitement at the same time, the voice of Mother Nature announcing her intentions. When I was tucked underneath an old handmade quilt with a belly full of hot chocolate, the sound of sleet on the roof was the most welcome lullaby in the world.
The old is new again
Today, metal has become a very popular roofing material in every part of the country, not just on southern farmhouses. So it's safe to say that there is a whole new generation of kids who are falling asleep under that gentle sound of sleet falling on the roof. The longevity of metal roofs helps ensure that sound will be enjoyed for many years to come. It's a warm and comfortable feeling, one that defines so much of what it means to live in a house -- old or new -- that shelters a happy family.