The first snow of the season came on a Wednesday — usually the least interesting of days, stuck, forlorn, in the middle of the week with nothing much to recommend it — and it was a good, old-fashioned whopper of a storm.
Our little suburban nook on Long Island is hilly and we have a precious glimpse of the water — much less since they built the big yellow house on the corner — so there is a giddy sense of being in a snow globe when flakes begin whirling and settling on lawns and blotting out the pavement of our narrow street.
It’s pretty sight, yes, a blessedly mellow version of an often unruly world, but, idling at the living room window, I quickly travel back to Brooklyn, to 69th Street and Sixth Avenue, where the panorama was distinguished mostly by trolley tracks, cars trapped by heavy drifts and the occasional fellow in a fedora emerging, clean shaven, collar up, from Tony’s barbershop across the way.
Most prominent in memory, though, is the scrape of my father’s metal shovel against the sidewalk and the sight of him from my tiny bedroom on the third floor. Dutiful guy, he was out there, bent over his task after a long day of delivering Bond Bread to delis and coffee shops in Park Slope.
His mother, my grandmother Nana, owned the six-family apartment building half-occupied by our tribe — Nana in one, my aunts in another, and top floor, front, Mom, Dad and me, No. 1 Son, and only child.
By default, Dad was the maintenance man and groundskeeper.
He painted the halls and did minor repairs and stoked the coal furnace in the basement. Maybe he was thinking how life might have turned out differently as his shovel struck the curbstone again — how he might have owned a house, himself, instead of renting from his mother — but I never heard a complaint.
Mom and Dad had their share of dreams, few of them realized. But gripe? No chance. They’d been through the Depression, after all, and, by means of hardship, gained strength.
Sidewalk clean, Dad would settle into an easy chair.
"Still coming down," he might say. "Be out there again in an hour."
Mom would rub his shoulder. He’d tap her hand. In an hour, sure enough, he’d rise with a grunt from the easy chair and go back out to battle the elements again.
I’m older now — by a lot — than my father when he died at 63, a couple weeks before my wife and I were married. Heart. Cancer. The wages of too many Lucky Strikes and Chesterfields.
Like Dad, I groan, too, when the forecast is for snow.
"Just what I need," I mutter, echo of the past.
Before the mid-December storm, one of my daughters texted — phone calls, you may know, are unspeakably 20th century — with a warning I do not recall from earlier years.
"Hi. I wouldn’t do too much heavy shoveling."
Her sister chimed in.
Oh, but I am careful.
Yes, I clean the entry and the driveway and push the stuff off the car roofs — if the suburbs are so great, how come we don’t have a garage? — but, lately, our pal, Carlos, has handled the heavy lifting.
He’s a lovely guy, Carlos, hardworking but eager to talk. In his Central American country, he was a farmer. Here, he shovels snow. We pay him in cash and hot chocolate and grilled-cheese sandwiches. He smiles, finishes the steaming cup, tucks the sandwich in his pocket, heads up the street to another customer.
So, I’m safe. No myocardial infarctions, I brag to my daughters and can’t help but think that, even with the awful pandemic, this is a peaceful time of life — life in a snow globe, you might say.
I look out at the world and wonder at it.
Jupiter and Saturn passed closer to each other than they had in nearly 400 years and astronomers rejoiced. A favorite author, David Cornwell, the exquisite spy novelist who wrote as John le Carré, died at 89. Of all people, Joe Namath, once the high-living New York Jets quarterback endlessly hawked a Medicare plan on television.
I used to love watching him play, Broadway Joe. Now he sells health insurance to seniors. And I pay Carlos to shovel the snow.