The most vivid memory I have growing up is of January 1967. On a balmy 65° Tuesday, I was running around like many other seven-and-a-half-year-olds shirtless and not a care in the world. Less than 36 hours later Logan Square, the area of Chicago where I lived, began showing signs of winter—it was snowing. The next morning, the city of Chicago had collapsed under the worst snowfall it had ever seen. Roofs caved in on homes, cars were abandoned, trains and buses stranded, and many lives were lost to the blizzard of 67’.
I recall my brother Frank and I rushing to get our galoshes, in those days that is what we called our boots, we got our gloves, scarves and coats on, as fast as we could. Then we headed outside, but not before our mother instructed, “You boys be careful. It can get dangerous out there. And when your sisters are ready I’m sending them out, I expect you to keep an eye on them.” My brother and I pointed at each other as to say, it’s your turn to watch the kid sisters. Then we devised our grand plan.
We lived on the second floor of a two-flat apartment building. There was a modest city-sized backyard, and a two-car garage used by the landlord who lived on the first floor. First, Frank and I tried to work our way down the rear stairwell to the backyard, but we were met with unpassable conditions, the snow was too deep. The grand scheme was building. We would go back up to our porch on the second floor and then jump into the snow. The key of success to our plan was to jump before the sisters come outside and before mom seen us.
We mounted the banister in tandem motion. We looked deep into each other’s eyes. We bent at the knees in a graceful swanlike motion. Held our breath. Jumped. We were airborne! As soon as we hit the silky cool bed of fresh fallen snow, we sank. It was like swimming in a pool of goose feathers, and we didn’t get hurt or caught by mom. The stairs to the porch, we knew, would pose a problem. We headed for the garage roof. Frank, nor I, realized at which point my mother and sisters began watching us, but then there they were on the porch laughing and clapping to our joy.
It finally dawned on my mother when my sisters demanded to join Frank and I, there was no way down, but to jump over the banister from the porch. No, she wouldn’t allow my sisters to jump, she made Frank and I get a shovel and clear a path so my kid sisters could join us. Just like sisters they wouldn’t jump, they were less dangerous “sissy’s” and opted to make snow angels.
The other thing about the snow of ’67, I recall how folks in the neighborhood reached out to one another. Our family sedan and all the cars up and down the block were fully submerged under six-foot mounds of snow. Dads walked up and down the street assisting people who were stranded, while moms made hot chocolate, coffee and tea for the dads. If snowblowers existed in ‘67, they were not seen on the streets of Logan Square. Every man’s most trusted tools that winter were his shovel and his automobile windshield scraper and in those days chains for his car tires.
It didn’t matter if you knew the couple down the street, everyone pitched in and shoveled out the sidewalk and the cars—the payment in return for the good deed, a smile and a heartfelt generous thank you! The women banded together to check on the elderly in the neighborhood. Homemade soup was the staple and fresh baked bread was the best. Everyone made sure that nobody went unchecked, unnoticed or unfed. Even the crabby old woman who barked at kids to get off her lawn in the summertime received a package of goodwill from the moms of Logan Square. The geezer with a face like a shriveled prune and smelled like the trash who lived in the Thompson’s basement, his car was shoveled out as he peered through the basement window and tried to conceal his existence. I think he was just afraid he would be roped into helping the guys, but secretly I think he felt sad that he was missing all the fun they were having. The dads were laughing, joking and shoveling all day.
That storm brought out the best in people. By the next summer even old crabby pants let us run on her lawn and all she did was laugh at us, she never yelled at us again—it was a bit weird at first. The folks in the neighborhood would say, “Hi”, and smile when passing each other on the street or in the market.
Today, things are so much different. Just last winter I saw an elderly couple stranded in a snowbank on the side of the road. When I stopped to ask if they needed a hand, they started to lock their doors and roll the windows. When they did roll the window down a crack, they said they were afraid. I guess they didn’t know what to expect. I could have been a gangbanger or a serial killer for all they knew. I respected their fears and asked them if they wanted to use my cell phone and I said I would slip it in the window and sit in my car until they reached help at which point they could flag me down or honk their horn and I would return for my phone. They refused. I called 911 for them and waited for help.
How we treat each other reflects on the world we live in. In 1967 elderly folks still hid in their basements, but nowadays society gives people more reasons to hide. Do we even know who our neighbors are? Make soup, bake bread and grab the ole’ shovel, I guarantee people will react differently—with any luck—you may even start a neighborhood trend!