Saturday, January 26, 2013

Baby It's Cold Outside

I've been playing golf right up to two weeks ago since the temperature has hovered around a pleasant mid-forties before now. It is finally frigid outside. We haven't had sustained low temperatures like this since the mid-1990s, but I remember as a kid that cold winters were par for the course. We wore ridiculous clothes and were swaddled in sweaters, scarves and hats; Mom pinned our mittens to our sleeves so they wouldn't get lost. Bitter cold was no reason to keep us inside though. Playing in the street and school yard  with your friends took precedence over all else, so out we went. Today's little pumpkins stay indoors and watch movies in the Auditorium if the temp drops too low.

In my old house on Somers Street in Brooklyn we had an unheated pantry attached to the rear of the house that led to the back yard. It was so cold that Mom used it like a second refrigerator. She would store things like milk, juice and soda back there and they were always ice cold. It was also Mom's hiding place for things she didn't want me to find like chocolates and snacks she kept in case company dropped by. One day I found what I thought was a bottle of Dad's Fleishman's Rye. Having never tasted whiskey and being naturally curious, I took a big swig. Turned out to be turpentine (which I later found out didn't taste much different from Fleishman's). When I told my mother what I had done, she tried to stuff bread down my throat and beat me with a wooden spoon all at the same time. Quite a feat.

In school during the winter we had radiators that brought steam heat into the classrooms. There were two temperatures possible to achieve with this system, very cold and very hot. In sixth grade we had a Franciscan teacher named Brother Mathias. He hated a warm classroom because he thought it put the students to sleep. (It was him.) Even on the coldest days he would have one of the boys open the windows a crack using the long pole that hooked into a latch at the top of the sash. One day he asked me to do this, an enviable task by the way for a twelve-year old. It was so cold that the window had frozen in place and I couldn't lower it. Giving me his best "you incompetent idiot" look, Brother tried the pole himself. He used too much force and the tip of the pole slipped out of the latch and smashed right through the window. He reddened to the joyful sound of 45 boys suppressing muffled laughter.

On cold days that were also snowy, our daily game of triangle baseball played with the Brothers in the school yard was threatened. The school custodian, a wily Irishman whose name escapes me, would recruit the bigger boys to shovel the snow from the playing area knowing full well how badly we wanted our game. He sat on the sidelines smoking and directing his all-too-willing pack of slave laborers. We knew he was using us but the important thing was clearing a place to play. Running the bases was treacherous on the ice, but the game went on. I can still see Brother Francis in his steel-rimmed glasses lobbing the pink Spaldeen on one bounce up to the plate where the hitter would try to slap it for a base hit.

Sometimes I think we coddle today's kids too much. Everything is planned, supervised and controlled by their parents. They are rarely on their own to learn life's lessons by living. They have so many advantages we never had, but in some respects, I really believe they get cheated.



Children's Craniofacial Association

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