and New York City becomes an amazing winter wonderland.
The winter of 2014 is proving to be one of those winters in New York.
There were three New York winters that stand out in my memory. Once in the Sunset Park area when I was in grade school … once in Bensonhurst, the fifth winter my babes and I were on our own … and the last winter I lived in New York.
You’re a kid. Snow is a day off from school … an adventure … a day to play with the elements, toss it in the air and watch it cascade around your face … scoop it up and fashion round balls to throw at the factory windows … or at your middle brother.
Snow is magic. It falls on the city streets and in the parks and lays the hustle of traffic and city noise to rest. It is an early morning walk in the park … the crunch of new snow under your feet … the tickle of flakes against your cheeks … it is sweet and makes the kid in you happy.
Some snow storms, events, blizzards or those record breaking inches are more severe than others. They make headlines, shut down bridges, stall traffic, halt subways and like the Giant White Whale … teach us that nature cannot be tamed.
The first was February, 1952 …
The snow came down for three solid days and paralyzed my world in Sunset Park.
It started late at night. I heard them talking in the other rooms … adults annoyed by the thought of losing a day’s work. Could they not see the wonder of it all? Were they blind or stupid?
I slipped out of my covers and took a fast peek around the corner of my open doorway. The coast was clear. It was safe to leave my bed. I went to my window and threw up the blinds. For hours I watched as it came down, shinning in the reflection of the street lamps. Hour by hour the streets grew whiter … quieter. It was sticking.
Early the next morning, I waited while my mother fortified me with hot oatmeal from a big cast iron pot. I waited while she made the coffee … mine mostly milk and sugar. I waited through toast and grumbles … through warnings and being wrapped in layers of protective clothing. “Be careful and don’t cross over the trolley tracks.”
When she finally let me escape her adult world, I jumped down the steps, two at a time. On the outside landing I looked for Petie. Through a white haze I saw him running up the street to find me. And we were off.
Ever notice how kids don’t get cold? No matter how wet, no matter how many hours they roll in the white stuff, no matter how many times they are called inside to eat or change or get new mittens. They don’t feel discomfort. They feel joy and freedom and fun.
We not only crossed over the trolley tracks on the fist day, we made our way up two avenues to Sunset Park. It was worth the lickings we knew we would get. One of the neighbors was bound to see us and report back to our moms. But it didn’t matter. Being in the park was the best. Crossing over the trolley tracks to the open field behind the Bush factory was worth a good smack with her wooden spoon.
She threatened to ground me. I knew that would never happen. Snow made her crazy,but having me under-foot made her insane. She yanked on my braids and warned me again and within minutes I had new gloves and was off to do battle, to build a damn by the sewer grating, to run up to the firehouse and let the men build us a real snow man.
Note those nifty plastic hats and galoshes, little ankle socks and no matter what the temps … skirts and dresses.
Through grade school and high school, through marriage and babies, jobs and family outings, nothing would trump the fun we had. Escaping our big brothers, running in packs like wild wolves …the winter of 1952 remained the best.
The second was the winter of 1978 …
I was living in a small, cold apartment in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. The kids were eight and five. The big one, my daring young boy, duplicated my adventures. I didn’t warn him not to cross against traffic to the big park across the avenue. In my heart, I wanted to be with him, doing battle with the wonder of the white stuff.
The girl, the little one, was five. She hated the grass in the park, the sand at the beach … and most of all … she hated snow. Tiny and small, she ventured to the front door, took one look at the six foot high walls lining the walk-way out of the building and turned heal back inside. She remained inside with another tiny muffin of a boy who spent the entire time in his Doctor Dentons … a cardboard box with his stuffed animals in tow. She poked out her lips, issued orders and they followed each other up and down the steps for days.
Starting in December, New York was hit with a series of storms … both big and small … all of them cancelling schools. I had just graduated college and was working temp for Kelly Girls. Cancelling schools and day care meant I had to stay home. Other than not having a pay check, I actually enjoyed it.
Then it came … The Great Blizzard of 1978:
The Northeastern United States blizzard of 1978 was a catastrophic and historic nor’easter that brought blizzard conditions to the New England region of the United States, New Jersey and the New York metropolitan area. The “Blizzard of ’78” formed on February 5, 1978 (a Sunday) and broke up on February 7, 1978. Snowfall occurred primarily between Monday morning, February 6 and the evening of Tuesday, February 7.
While the family looked on in horror, this house broke off its foundation and floated out to sea.
The Wednesday before the storm hit, I came home from work to find an Eviction Notice taped to my apartment door. It was not the first. But this was the last chance, the seventy-two-hour notice. I had three days to vacate. My home didn’t float out to sea, it was yanked out from under me.
We lived in that apartment for five years … five winters freezing with no heat or hot water … five miserable winters while I went to school and worked and prayed for summer and my bike path along Shore Parkway.
I had a strange arrangement with the landlord’s nephew, Mark. I lived on grants and temp jobs and paid the rent in three and four month increments. He called often and threatened. I promised a check would soon be in the mail. During the previous summer, I met a woman who lived in Washington Heights. She convinced me to move. So I plotted and planned. I held out for five months without paying the rent … stashing my money to relocate to Manhattan.
They do say that the worst of times can be the best of times. We partied. Me … my babes… every kid between five and fifteen … my adult neighbors. We partied and shared food. Our apartment doors were open and hoards of kids played in the wide hallways, ran up and down the six floors and generally made a holy mess. Stores ran out of groceries so those of us who had food, cooked for the elderly and babies of families who had not gotten to the stores in time.
Mark heard rumors that I was having an apartment sale and moving out. “You running out on me?”
I informed him that his uncle got the best of the deal and I was taking five months … one month’s rent for each of the five winters I froze. He laughed and wished us the best. He never sued or tried to get his uncle’s money from me.
I found two crazy people to help me pack, had my apartment sale, and managed to get out on the fifth day. I rationalized that if the city was paralyzed, the City Marshall would not be able to get through either. I was right. I saved the important stuff … my books and record albums (you do remember those round black things) and the kids.
It was late on the last night. My ex came from Staten Island to get the dog and drive us to my mother’s house. Never let it be said that we ever get too old not to depend on our moms. While he was packing up the dog and the kids, I grabbed a red crayon that was left behind, pulled over a step ladder, and wrote these word on the ceiling in bright red … THE MAD MOTHER FROM BROOKLYN WAS HERE.
What could have been a nightmare, became one of my fondest memories of snow and winter and the magic that happens when people help each other. Believe it. It does take a village.
My last winter in NYC, 1996 …
It came down for months. One storm after the other. Inches after inches … snow drifts against the four-foot wall that surrounded my roof-top terrace. With barely enough time to breath … the storms were relentless. The citizens of NYC once again … adjusted and enjoyed.
This time there was no one to play with … no little ones to give me vicarious thrills. The kids were grown. I worked in the neighborhood and was able to run everything from my apartment. With no need to be responsible … I spent most of my time on the computer. digging out the car from one side of the street … only to find out that someone took my spot.
The neighborhood children played on the steps leading to Fort Washington Avenue and I never ventured farther than my computer. I grumbled and complained. The kids grumbled and complained. Fellow workers … friends and family alike … grumbled and complained.
It was official. I no longer loved to play with snow. I still sat for hours watching if fall … the reflection in the street lights … a late night in the middle of the street to watch children make snow angels … the amazing quiet.
A total of 22 snow storms hit New York that winter … from January through March. Snow records climbed to new heights. I paid a fortune to store my car in an indoor garage because I got tired of digging her out.
In short or long terms … I was not a happy camper. I no longer romped, rolled or relished the white stuff. And in the middle of it all … I began to pack for yet another adventure twelve-hundred miles south.
Fast forward …
I am supposed to be older and wiser. I might just be older. But these days I watch snow on television of in movies. I read posts of FB friends who still live in the north … pictures of my home state, pictures of Canada … pictures of places I never intend to visit in winter.
I love the Sunshine state and its rather short and mild winter. I can turn on the heat with the flick of a switch … the same switch I use for cool air in summer. I pull into a car port and never … ever … and for all time … do I need to dig out of a parking space or wait for snowplows to make my street passable. I drive down the lane in a gated community that is never clogged with snow, ice, slush or grid-locked traffic.
It is always quiet here. Always green. Always warm or hot or mild. Yes, yes … we might get hurricanes or bands of hurricane weather. We might have lots of rain and heat and those pesky Snow Birds from the northern regions.
Weather, I have read, is one of the main deciding factors to where some folks retire. Those of us who have lived our entire life in the northeast often move south. We have a friend who moved from Florida to Chicago … a strange move to be sure. Then there was Laura Drake’s move from Southern California to Texas … Texas with its extreme temps give her a bit of each … sweltering heat and brutal cold.
We might move where our hearts are. I did not. My heart remains in New York, Brooklyn in particular. But my heart and my body debated and my old bones won out. Now snow is but a memory or an image I see on the news.
Tell me if you will
Do your special memories of
playing in the snow?
And does your heart live where your
old bones reside?
fOIS In The City
If you have young bones, are you living where you were born or has your heart found a new home?