Snow days kindle warm memories

New York may have been spared the storm of the century, but for some, snow days are still a treasure

Photo: G.G. Bain / Wikimedia Commons Wagons remove excess snow from a storm in 1908. Later, trucks performed this function.

Photo: G.G. Bain / Wikimedia Commons
Wagons remove excess snow from a storm in 1908. Later, trucks performed this function.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

New York was scheduled to be overwhelmed by a record-breaking snowstorm last Tuesday. Up to 24 inches of the white fluff was predicted. Schools announced closures the day before, driving was prohibited, and even our 24-hour subway system came to a complete halt at 11:00 p.m.

The next morning I rushed to my window, prepared to be stunned by the result, and I was: there were only a few inches of snow blanketing the ground. Just enough to cloak my neighborhood with a fine white coat.

It is my ritual to head to Bliss Park, AKA Owl’s Head Park, on the first snow day of the season. A huge snowman greeted me along Third Avenue, adorned with a bright dapper hat, made from a traffic cone, and plastic car parts that served as facial features.

As I headed to the park, a cacophony of delightful sounds could be heard. Dead Man’s Hill was dotted with cold weather clothes of every hue. The hats were outrageous. One child had more tentacles popping out of his head than those found on ten octopuses. Sleds whooshed by: plastic saucers, rubber tubes, old-school flexible flyer types, and some that I had never seen before. There were even snowboarders. And of course snowmen abounded; one had a whimsical resemblance to Casper the Friendly Ghost.

I have been enjoying snow days here my entire life, so I started to think about snow days past, when Norwegian Bay Ridge was in its heyday. I spoke to a few Norwegian Americans about their snow day memories.

Elsie Willumsen is in her ninth decade: “We made igloos out of the big piles, and piles of snow. Sometimes they lasted until Easter. They were happy days. We had to go to school. We only had radio. No TV reports.

“At one time we lived on 47th Street. We used to sleigh ride from the top of 6th Avenue straight down to 4th Avenue in the middle of the street. There were no cars. We all piled up on top of each other on the sleigh—a flexible flyer. When we got soaking wet and all had frozen finger and hands, my mother would invite us all in and make cocoa for us with Hershey’s chocolate. She always had some cookies. They were happy days—simple pleasures. We were poor during the Depression days. We were international, a mixture of people, all children of immigrants.”

Arnie Bergman is in his seventh decade: “The plows used to push the snow into gigantic mountains on the blocks and we used to play King of the Mountain. One guy would get up there and others would try to throw him off, so they would be King of the Mountain. For some reason I had a shovel up there one time; I was shoveling and somehow I hit someone under the nose. Whenever I come across this guy, who has moved out of town, he asks me ‘Remember the time you tried to shovel my nose off my face?’ and shows me the little scar under his nose for proof. We also used to make igloos on some of the open lots that were around. It was fun being inside of them and hiding.

“I can even remember when the bulldozers used to fill up big trucks and drive the snow down to the 69th Street pier. They dumped the snow into the water. That was how they sometimes cleared the streets. I had heard that they stopped doing this because the streets are too dirty and the dirt would go into the water.”

Bob Carlsen is in his seventh decade: “One time we were stuck in the house. The snow was so deep we couldn’t walk in the street; I skied to work one day to Victory Memorial Hospital and was the only one who showed up. I had cross-country skis and I went through the middle of the street. I was … very conscientious about working.”

And I, Victoria Hofmo remember the late 1960s and the 1970s, when the boys would grab onto the back bumpers of city buses, hitching a ride down snowy hills, their feet serving as blades. This was called skitching. I do not recommend attempting this.

Or the time we had such a big blizzard that the kids on my block made a snow fort that stretched across the entire street from curb to curb. The tunnels formed a labyrinth of snowy underground paths that provided us with days of enchantment. One of my favorite memories was when my dad took us three kids to Sunday school by sled, the only mode of transportation available.

One could ice skate in Leif Ericsson Park. The basketball court had a lip and it was a simple, ingenuous design: in the summer the hoops would become sprinklers, soaking the humidity off our perspiring skin. In the winter they let the water freeze over—no waivers, no supervision, no problems. We just grabbed our skates and glided—and fell! One time we had the bright idea to skate on 9th Avenue. We were tenacious, but this was not a smooth surface, so it was challenging not to be taken down by the cracks and crevices.

I cherish snow days and encourage all to do the same, for snow days are where and when wonderful memories are made.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 6, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.