Growing Up With Billy (cont.)
by G.A. Cribari
We made it home through the snow and played for hours with our new toys. One of the presents was shared by me and my brother and consisted of large wooden blocks in the shapes of rectangles, squares and triangles. We took turns creating castles, houses and elaborate, abstract structures from our imaginations. When we were finished building we took turns knocking them down and starting over.
Soon, the New Year came. Because I was older, I was allowed to stay up until midnight and watch the ball drop in Times Square on television. My Mom’s sister and her husband were blowing noisemakers and drinking champagne. After midnight, they whisked me off to bed.
I could hear them laughing, joking and playing cards for several hours before I drifted off to sleep.
During the first week in January there was a large blizzard. It snowed every day for over a week. The piles of snow on the side of the road left by the snowplows were 10 feet high in some places. We made snow fort after snow fort, conquering through snowball wars, taking the castle fort across the road. In some fights my younger brother and I were pitted the Carpenter sons. When my brother hit the older son hard with a snowball to the head he got mad and took a long shovel, running across the street with it. He swung the shovel as hard as he could just missing my brother who rolled down the other side of the bank. I was shocked, he could have seriously been injured.
After 10 days of snow the sun came out, turning the icicles into crystal refractions, and then there was a thaw. On a Saturday the temperature was in the mid-thirties and I learned that my Dad was going to the Sand Bar to meet our neighbor. As this was near the Spengler’s, I asked if I could come and get dropped off at Billy’s.
I was let out at side door and knocked. Mrs. Spengler let me in and I heard yelling coming from the living room. Billy and his sister Cheryl were arguing over what channel to watch on T.V. I told Mrs. Spengler how nice the weather was and suggested that Billy and I should play outside.
She yelled, “Billy your friend is here”, and he came into the kitchen. I told him it was warm outside, the snow was great for packing, and I wanted to make a snowman. We went outside and the bright sun reflecting on the white snow pack made me squint. The sweet salt in my young breath was innocence. When my eyes adjusted I went out into the front yard and knelt down and began packing the snow. Soon I had a solid piece of snow shaped like a large Tootsie Roll. I stretched out my arms and put both of my hands under the log of snow. I lifted it up and rolled it across the yard.
Because the snow was the perfect consistency the log stayed in one giant piece. The snow in the yard adhered to the large ball completely and you could see the grass in the yard sticking out of what snow remained.
It soon became too heavy for me to push but with Billy’s help there was now a large base for the snowman. While Billy went to get sticks and stones for the arms and eyes, I finished the two smaller snow balls for the head and body. Billy was soon bored with our mundane sculpture and suggested throwing snowballs at cars. Soon our frozen grenades were “blowing up” the cars and trucks boing by on Lake Road. And expensive car with large tail fins approached next. Not content with snowballs, Billy had rolled up some snow the size of a basketball. As my snowballs exploded on the side windows Billy used both hands to send his monster crashing into the car’s side with a large thump. To our surprise, the car’s brake-lights lit up and the car spun around and parked in front of us.
The window was rolled down and a loud stern voice commanded, “Hey you! Come here!”
Scared, I was trying to hide but Billy, who hadn’t budged an inch stepped up to the car and said, “What do you want?!” The driver yelled about damage to the car and asked for our names, phone numbers and where we went to school. When Billy said he attended a Catholic school the driver’s wife said, “I knew it would be some damned Catholics.”
They took our names and phone numbers and said they would call our parents. They drove off and, like an omen, clouds had rolled in producing a light snow-rain mix. Billy suggested that we go to the lake and, happy to leave the scene of the “crime”, I agreed.
We crossed Lake Road and climbed the small slope to reach the train tracks at its top. At the summit Billy reached down between the rails and filled his pockets with rocks and stones. I did the same and followed him down to the Lakeshore.
He reached into his pocket for a rock and he hurled it with all his might at one of the numerous seagulls that inhabited the area. It was a perfect shot but at the last instant the gull swerved out of the projectile’s path. I did the same with similar results. While we took turns trying to kill a gull, small pellets of hail had better luck hitting our target. Unfazed, Billy bragged he could hit one with his BB gun and suggested we go back and get it. I didn’t want to get charged with “murder”, so I was relieved when I heard Dad’s car honking and the Spengler’s calling for us.
It was time to go and the weather had turned to a freezing rain. The road was getting slippery and Dad took his time on the short drive home. As we approached the intersection of Lake and Vosburg I repeatedly asked to stop t my uncle’s house on the corner so I could meet my cousin who was a sports hero. Initially, Dad said no saying I didn’t really know my cousin. But he finally agreed reluctantly and we went in to meet my hero, whose high school track, football and basketball teams, unbelievably, were undefeated in his senior year.
We greeted uncle “Bun” and my other five cousins and we sat down to an awkward silence. My hero, the perfect gentleman, sensed the situation and invited me to see his room which was filled with sports and celebrity posters. Then I felt at ease and I was amazed to see some of the posters were fastened to the bedroom’s ceiling! My cousin next told me that sometimes he would take his younger brothers and sister to see movies at the Ridge Theater in Webster if I ever wanted to go along. I said that would be great and we went back to the living room to join the others.
Dad said we would have to leave because the roads were getting bad. Before we left my father asked my cousin what he thought of Syracuse. My hero had earned a scholarship to play football there. He said he liked college and that he had a black roommate named Ernie Davis. They got along great and on their first night there they went to downtown Syracuse to check it out. While walking two men approached them and attempted to rob and mug them. They didn’t know that the guys they confronted were football players in top shape. Ernie and his new roommate left them both lying on the sidewalk, moaning and groaning! Dad laughed and then we left and slowly made our way home down the slippery and icy roads.
After we finally slid into our driveway, Dad got out and shook his head and said, “This is bad!” It was getting dark and the bare trees looked ghostly with the thin coating of ice they already had. The slow, freezing rain continued through the night and at 3 a.m. I awoke to loud snapping and creaking noises. These were soon followed by the thunderous crashing of large limbs falling from the weight of the ice. By late morning the electricity went off and our furnace stopped.
Mom had me and my siblings dress in our winter coats and hats. We all sat together on the couch, cold and bored, with nothing to do. Dad asked Mom to call uncle Bun and ask if we could stay there until we had heat again. Uncle Bun’s furnace was coal fired. It took some work but there was heat in the house even without electricity.
We put on gloves, scarves and boots and got in the car for the ride to the new luxury of a warm house. I was actually happy to go because I would be able to see my hero. I brought the scrapbook that I had filled with newspaper clippings and game programs which highlighted my cousin’s exploits. The most notable of these was winning the Section 5 Basketball Championship by defeating Rochester’s premier team, Franklin High School, which featured future Olympian Trent Jackson. It was profoundly disappointing for me to have had missed the game because I was very sick with the mumps. Having my hero review my scrapbook and give me his firsthand account would almost make up for it.
February came, with its day after day monotony of freezing cold, snow and days of short sun, when the sun did in fact show itself. The extra effort it took for me and the kids on my street to plod through the endless snow didn’t allow time to see my buddy down on the bay.
Our house was the second to the last house on the left where the street ended, at what we called, “the circle”. Where the street began off the main road there was a large square metal sign which was mounted on its edge with the words, “Dead End Street”. Next door to us was the last house on the end of Forest Drive. There were three girls and an older brother that I would visit and play with. Their parents had given all of them a large toboggan to use for their Christmas present.
The girl who was the middle in age went to school with me. One weekend she stopped by and invited me to go sledding with her sisters and older brother. I went to the basement with my brother and we got our sleds and took them out the basement door to our neighbor’s house. As we went up the driveway we saw that the garage door was open and the other kids were getting the toboggan ready. We all went out the garage door into the back yard and headed right to the sandy playground now covered with a foot of snow. We passed the now abandoned swing set and the large earthen mound to our right with a huge oak tree at its center.
We entered the forest and proceeded downward from the plateau on which we lived. After reaching the bottom we ascended one of the numerous rolling hills of the woods. We went to the middle of the hill and turned left through the trees. Halfway down was clear to the base where a small streamed flowed. Our neighbors challenged us to a race to the bottom. We were neck and neck at first but with its extra weight the toboggan easily pulled ahead and won.
We grabbed our sleds and trudged up the hill for another run. After repeating this several times our neighbors invited us to get on the toboggan with them for a ride. Our extra weight gave us increased speed. Reaching the bottom quickly, to our shock, we couldn’t stop. We plowed through some brush and heard the thin ice cracking. The girls screamed and my brother and I fell off the back into the freezing water.
Everyone was in a panic and knew we must head home quickly. The run home was sheer agony and as our clothes started to freeze we felt our bodies getting numb. It seemed like an eternity before we made it home.
As our neighbors started up the hill to their backyard we cut through the woods to the right to reach our backyard quicker. We ran to our side door and went inside. Mom’s face had a shocked look but being a nurse she knew what had to be done. Rushing us into the bathroom, she had us take our wet clothes off and get us into warm pajamas and slippers. She turned up the thermostat to 90 degrees and told us to go to the basement and run around the furnace to prevent hypothermia.
At this point, I had lost most of the feeling in my arms and legs and had difficulty walking. It took over half an hour before we were able to come upstairs and sit on the couch with blankets over us. It was weeks before we got our appetite for sledding back.
Professor G.A. Cribari is a science fiction writer, raconteur, cosmologist, sommelier, and independent historian – among other things. He lives in Center City.