Friday, February 1, 2008

Flashback Friday: Snow Day

This is a new effort being launched by Cable Girl of 42. Please go visit her to find other tales from the past! Today we're having a snow day in my town, so I thought I'd share a snow day memory from long, long ago:

New York city shuts down when a single snowflake falls to the ground. Okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating. A little. But especially in the 60s/70s, before the days of megaplows, and snow emergency parking that actually worked, and special tires for public transportation, the whole place closed up.

So it was on a January day in 1969 or so, when we'd actually had enough snow to allow sledding in Central Park, that the whole neighborhood was without school. Now, in the kind of neighborhood I grew up in, many of us went to different schools. About half of us went to the local public schools, about a quarter went to parochial schools, and about a quarter of us went every where from Dalton the chichi private school of the time, to considerably less fashionable, but still private, school digs. I went to a hippy school. But we were ALL out. of. school.

And Central Park beckoned, and we were within mere steps from the Park and close to one of the rockingest snow hills in the entire fifty block by ten block mess.

I can't really remember how we made all the arrangements, but I know that by fairly early in the day we were all milling around the sidewalk, holding our flexible flyers or the equivalent. And since some big kids were coming (12-year-olds!), we didn't need to have any adults with us. Because these were the days when adults didn't *worry* about kids so much.

Now, the other thing to remember was that we didn't have those nice, safe, plastic sleds back then. Your sled was built of wood. If you had blades to cut the snow they were metal and relatively sharp. And if you had a crash, it could be pretty darned serious.

But none of us particularly cared about this as we set off for the winter wonderland across the street. I hung out with the shyer girls from The Block. That was my place, and that's where I felt safe. The brasher girls yelled and whooped and flirted with the swaggering boys.

The boys threw snowballs at each other, and occasionally at a girl or two. They yelled, filling the sky with their shouts of glory. And no one swaggered more than Jamie.

Jamie was one of the oldest boys in our crowd, and certainly the biggest. He was from an odd family of kids, some adopted and some not, and all retaining a pretty tough swagger, despite their parents being lawyers and educated. I didn't really understand the culture of their home. I was just scared of all of them. Jamie was the boy who would lead the others, in the springtime, to catch unsuspecting girls and throw them in the bushes ringing the Natural History Museum and pee on them. Jamie collected JD (Juvenile Delinquent) cards as if they were baseball cards.

Jamie was to be avoided, at all costs.

We got to the hill of hills. There were some littler kids there with mommies or daddies, and we knew to be careful of them and stay out of their way, because kids in the city in those days knew the pecking order and how to get along when they were in a crowd without adults.

We had a grand old time sliding the steep slope, crashing into snow banks at the bottom, and trudging up the long path to do it all over again. We began to dream of hot chocolate and toast with peanut butter that would await us when we returned from our adventures.

But in the middle of this bliss, a blood curdling scream split the secluded park area. And then I saw him.


Blood poured from his nose and his forehead. He and Peter had gotten into a major crash, and Peter's sharp, Flexible Flyer blades had split Jamie's face in two.

We were paralyzed. The older boys stood in knots and pointed. Jamie's sister threw up. I stood grabbing the hands of my group of shy girls. Fortunately, there was a Take-charge Mom on the hill, and she corraled a couple of Jamie's friends to "run like Hell" back to Jamie's apartment and get help. And run they did. And she handed off her little girl to my group and went to comfort Jamie. (Because in those days, you trusted strangers to help).

After what seemed like hours, Jamie's mom came huffing along, thanking the Take-charge Mom profusely. She cradled Jamie in her arms and rocked him and sang to him. And it must have worked, because he calmed right down. And the rest of us were flabbergasted.

An ambulance arrived shortly after, and Jamie and his mom were loaded in. A couple of his sister's friends took her to their homes for that hot chocolate and peanut butter toast.

And eventually, Jamie was in our midst again, showing off the scars that would be visible throughout his life. But Jamie's mother's lullabies sealed his fate forever. And none of us would ever look at Jamie in quite the same mixture of fear and awe again.


painted maypole said...

great story.

Korie said...

Interesting angle there.

When you're a kid it's easy to forget that bullies have mommies too.

Anonymous said...

Jen, you are quite a storyteller. You've got the magic! I loved this story. I felt like I was there.

I'm making my way through The Writing Game stories. Slow and steady. They're just great, so far!

Madam Crunchypants said...

Poor Jamie. You totally put my careless rambling to shame!

anno said...

These stories from your NYC childhood are always wonderful, and they always surprise me with your revelations. I loved this.

Anonymous said...

Great tale! I love it. I also love how one day and one instant of mommy coddling can change a kid's reputation forever.

Luisa Perkins said...

What a great remembrance!

When I lived in Manhattan (seven years ago), we still trusted strangers to help in emergencies. I've never lived in a friendlier neighborhood than the Upper West Side.

Carol said...

A boy's mama is always a boy's mama! I had to really restrain myself from majorly mommying Peter today after he had his wisdom teeth out. And actually, truth ne told (shhhhh!), I did kinda dote a little while his gf went to the store...

(Story on my blog, of course!)

Oh, and Seattle shuts down at the first snowflake too!


Momisodes said...

What a fabulous story. You drew the scenes so well with your words :)
Loved it!

Karen MEG said...

I loved that story ... NYC in the winter, and a childhood tale with a twist.
Thanks for stopping by fellow bloghopper!


Anonymous said...

What a great story. Can't always judge a book by it's cover...

"Margarita Mom"

The Passionate Palate said...

What a great story! It brought back so many memories of childhood. I grew up in Mass. and we sledded - with Flexible Flyers - all winter long. I think everyone must have had a "Jamie" around when they were younger! Love your site.

Goofball said...

yikes, I keep getting visions of what his face must have looked like.

At the beginning of the story I missed real winters. We don't get winter her, ...I want snow.
but now I picture snow with blood in it. Yikes.

The twist in how he was perceived was nice though. Very good lesson learned.