THE EARLY snow had been surprisingly heavy that October in 1941. I felt a little guilty for having played in it all afternoon. Playing was something the rest of the family didn't do any more. The long Depression had made old men of my four brothers. They all worked at something. Fran, the one next to me, had been shoveling driveways all day, so I was surprised when he leaned across the big dining room table where we were doing our homework and asked, "Want to go outside?"
We retrieved our mittens from the oven door and buckled our galoshes. As we trudged down the open stairway that divided our six tenement flats we could hear the shrieks and yells of the kids coasting down Ice Company Hill, but we weren't going there. Instead we climbed the concrete stairs that our ingenious landlord had built beside his masterpiece of a garage. The top was ringed with great flower boxes, which in the winter became perfect leaping places when the snow drifted up against the back wall.
Tonight it was dead still and everything was blue -- the sky, the snow, the concrete, everything. Fran raced up the steps, climbed the first flower box, threw himself into the snow below and I did the same. Over and over we leaped and yelled and laughed until the soft snow turned to ice crusts around our cuffs and little trickles of cold water began to run down our necks. Without a word we climbed back up the open stairway. We draped our wet clothes on any available chair near the kitchen stove.
Fran stopped for a minute in front of the calendar that hung on the kitchen wall. He grabbed a pencil and drew a line through another day. In just a few more, he'd be 17 and could finally join the Navy. He could hardly wait to follow Pa and Grandpa "on to the ships." Grandpa had told us over and over about his great adventures on the big tea company ships that sailed out of Blackpool, England, headed for India and China. Pa sometimes added his own stories about being in the Cuban revolt as a Navy seaman at 17 and around the world by the time he was 19.
That next week Fran left for the Navy Boot Camp at Buzzards Bay, Mass. We had only one letter from him saying that he and some of his buddies had been assigned to the USS Arizona and were heading for Hawaii. Somehow I knew the postscript was meant for me. "P.S. . . . and no more crummy snow. Ha! Ha!"
Then came Pearl Harbor.
Even now when a winter night is cold and crisp and blue I sometimes pull on an old jacket and some mittens and just go outside . . .