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That's Life: Snow Days & Movie Dreams

By Phyllis McGuire
iBerkshires Columnist
05:38PM / Thursday, January 02, 2014
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When I was growing up in the Bronx, I was no different than all the children in the neighborhood: We loved snow.

It did not snow as frequently or as heavily there as in the Berkshires and to us children every snowfall, be it an inch or six inches, was a major event.
 
While waiting for Mother to take me out to play when I was a very young child, I would scoop up snow from the windowsills of our apartment and store it on top of the ice cube tray in our gas refrigerator.
 
We were fortunate to live a block from a sprawling park, where we found refuge from the cement sidewalks lined with brick apartment buildings. The closest thing to a tree we would see in the area we lived was a tall wooden pole in the alley from which clothes lines were strung.
 
At the park, mischievous boys would hide behind the rocks and trees and target girls with their barrage of snowballs. But in my memory, no one ever was hurt, and our encounters became fodder for stories we girls told about being so fast on our feet that we dodged the snowballs while boys boasted of their great aim.
 
The wading pool where we cooled off in summer was turned into an ice skating rink. When our feet grew cold or we were recovering from a fall, we would gather around the pot-belly stove in the recreation room. It was the first pot-belly stove I had ever seen, except for those in movies like "It's a Wonderful Life."
   
When my mom, two sisters and I walked to the shopping district or movie theaters on the avenue, we would take a shortcut through the park. The movie theaters, Loew's and RKO, were directly across from each other, and the price of admission was the same at both of them - a quarter. If the "Sold Out" sign had been posted at one of the theaters, we would scoot over to the other.  

In  my very young years, television was not available as home entertainment, and going to the movies was a popular recreation. Though we had favorite programs that were broadcast on radio including "Lux Radio Theatre," "Fibber McGee & Molly" and "The Shadow," we, like millions of Americans in that pre-TV era, found watching "stars" enact a story on film was far superior to just listening to actors and sound effects.    
 
In the bitter cold days of winter, we would hop on a bus to reach the movie houses, but if we did not have enough money to pay for both the ride and candy to chomp on during the movie, we would put on an extra layer of clothing, wear woolen socks under our boots and hurry on foot to the movies. When we were out of the park, continuing our trek on the streets leading to the theatres, we would pop into buildings to warm ourselves. And at least one of us would need to run to the restroom of the movie house as soon as we arrived. It seemed the cold air not only chilled us to the bone, but affected other parts of our anatomy as well.
    
 If Mother had saved enough money from her weekly budget, we were in for a treat: As we left the movie house, humming "Singing In The Rain," or wiping tears from our eyes after viewing "West Side Story," Mother would say, "We can eat dinner out."
 
 We would always go to a Chinese restaurant where a very reasonably priced dinner included soup, main course - we usually ordered chow mein and egg rolls - ice cream or an almond cookie for desert, plus a big pot of tea. Mother would pour the tea into small handless cups, and at first, I thought it was strange that a restaurant would use cups without handles. Mother would throw out the cups we had at home when the handles broke  off.
 
Everyone would receive a fortune cookie at the end of the meal, and we eagerly broke them in half, knowing there was a printed message within them: "You will meet a handsome stranger" or "Surprises are in your future" set our imaginations free.
 
For me, those particular predictions did come true. I did meet a handsome stranger at work, we fell in love and married less than a year later. And I have experienced lots of surprises in my life: The best surprises were finding out I was not suffering from a stomach "bug" but pregnant with my first child, a son, and a few years later hearing my obstetrician say in a hospital's delivery room, "You have a daughter."

 I actually questioned the doctor: "Are you sure? " I never even dared suppose I would be so lucky as to be granted a "King's Wish," bearing a son and then a daughter.

Now my children and grandchildren like to hear stories about when I was a child and could buy an ice cream cone for a nickel and could ride on a bus for a dime. Yes I guess you could say they were "the good old days," but despite the changes time has brought, life is still good. After all, I am still part of a loving family.


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