Snow. That’s what we called it, snow. No polar vortex, no bomb cyclone, no Winter Storm Fred or anything like that. Snow. If it got so thick you couldn’t see past your outstretched hand, it was a blizzard; that was about the extent of our parsing of winter weather.
But wait, you say, people are suffering losses, some are even dying. That’s true, and it’s just as lamentable now as it was before the storm of jargon came spewing out of weather centers. I daresay the casualties were worse back then, in the mid 20th century, before forced air gas heating, heat pumps, whole house generators and hyper-insulated houses. There were only two realistic choices: coal or oil, and both systems worked on the principle of convection. Worse, if a winter turned out to be especially long or cold, you could run out of either, and be hard put to get more of it in a reasonable time. People froze. It was winter.
But for every downside there’s an upside. The snow was a cash cow for us kids. We’d go trundling up and down the street shoveling sidewalks for a buck a pop. We would have charged more for driveways, but there were no such things in my neighborhood, just alleys covered with soot from the ubiquitous trash fires. My eyes still glaze over in nostalgia whenever I smell garbage burning.
On a good snow day, you could end up with ten or fifteen bucks in your pocket by noon, a small fortune for a ten or twelve year old kid in the 1950s, and still have time to spend the rest of the day sledding down a steep hill into traffic. I never made that much; I felt rich as soon as I hit five bucks, and went about finding ways to spend it. But that was me. I also collected coins in specially made books with slots for each year back to the Upper Paleolithic, but I never filled one. I spent that, too, as soon as enough money to buy something accumulated.
We’d also have fun “skitching” rides on the perennially unplowed streets. That involved sneaking low behind a car at an intersection, grabbing the bumper, and getting pulled along, sliding on the packed snow. Even getting caught was fun. We’d pelt the furious driver with snowballs and run away.
There was one time, though, that a cop caught us putting snowballs into a mailbox. He informed us solemnly that he was letting us go, but that tampering with the mail was a federal crime, and he couldn’t vouch for what the FBI might want to do.
I had nightmares about J. Edgar Hoover for a week after that.