The winters back when I was a kid were real winters. I remember snowstorms that closed schools, and some were so bad that the adults couldn’t make it into work. Those were days I will never forget.
Snake Hill was never intimidated by the snow and ice. As Mother Nature became worse, the stronger she made that hill. I was in the 6th grade at PS78, which was Mr. Ring’s class; it was about a half hour before the end of the school day when another teacher entered, and Mr. Ring told us all to sit quietly for a while. The two teachers whispered and then we were told that the school may be closed the next day due to the coming snowstorm. The class went wild for a split second before it was immediately brought back to law-and-order with just one mighty yell of “HEY!” That’s all it took back then from a teacher because of the respect we were taught to give them. We were told to tell our parents to watch the news for school closures the following day which was a Friday. This would mean a three-day weekend!
The walk home had us all in a buzz. “I hope it snows.” “Yeah, three days off.” “Wow!” And then it happened. Our prayers were answered. One by one, a flake here a flake there, and by the time I reached home, it was a decent light snowfall with promising and definite possibilities.
While having dinner, I was reprimanded a few times for looking out the window and not finishing my plate of food. I couldn’t help myself – I had to look because there was a lot riding on that storm. It meant three days off, snowball fights, snow forts and best of all, sledding down the hill. The storm became bigger along with the flakes. The bigger the flakes, the stronger the guarantee was that they would stick, and by now I was certainly an expert on this sort of thing. I was counting on it in spite of family comments that it may blow over during the night. There was no room in my world for this kind of negativity and narrow-mindedness.
Throughout that sleepless night I would hear the sanitation trucks with snow plow blades fixed to the front trying to remove the snow. I could do nothing else but to wait until morning.
I opened my eyes and the whole room was brighter than ever. I ran to the window to see at least 4 feet of snow. YES! My eyes could not adjust to the winter morning sunlight reflecting off that glorious snow. It was blinding but wonderful and I just couldn’t wait to get outside.
The news report was validation and music to my ears. School was closed! I had to contain my total joy because my parents did not seem happy about this. What was wrong with them? What’s the big deal? This was great! And I thought, “I’ll never get that way when I grow up!”
My prime directive was to get out of the house and go sledding over at Snake Hill, but first I had to clean up, dress, comb my hair, and sit down for breakfast, which was not what I wanted to do at all. I couldn’t eat as my heart was racing a mile a minute. I could hear the voices of my friends starting without me. I got past breakfast, but now I had to don proper clothes, and my mom wasn’t going give an inch on this. Long johns were a must, upper and lower thermal. Always heavy pants, corduroy was preferred, two shirts, two sweaters, two pair of socks, and plastic bags to go around my feet which were crammed inside the regulation winter-issue boot with the insert pullover clampdown buckle that the cool kids had. You better not bend those buckles because that would break the seal. But if that wasn’t enough shoved into the boots, you had to include the pants as well. This became an almost impossible task, and sooner or later you just had to bend one, maybe two, buckles on either boot, and it would be totally your fault when that happened. I would get the scolding about how rough I was with everything along with, “Money doesn’t grow on trees!” Whatever, I just had to get outside. We all had the waterproof winter coat in green or dark blue with that stupid fur around the edge of the hood that would cut down 80% of your vision. The gloves were a sign that you had gotten older. If you were a baby or a little kid you wore mittens that kept four of your fingers in bondage, allowing the thumb to be free. I wore “man gloves” now – all fingers liberated and able to make a righteous snow ball, packed tight with the sole intention of causing bruises.
The garage door was open because the shoveling had begun. Before anybody did anything fun, the dues and ransom had to be paid. I had to help my grandfather shovel snow out of the driveway and make a path from the front door to the sidewalk which also had to be shoveled. I was never alone as slave labor; all my friends had the same sentence. We stuck together. We would help the next guy get through his sentence by paying off his time with our labor. This wasn’t all bad because we got to shovel all that snow in a great big pile in front of each house, from the first house on the block to the top of the hill, and these piles became forts and mountains to stand atop of and throw well packed snowballs down at the weak. We kids made sure that those gargantuan white monoliths also had a strategic purpose!
Paul DeFalco grew up in Maspeth.