The last word, Rosebud, uttered by Citizen Kane, in the wonderful movie of the same name, before he dies, very much reminds me of my earlier years growing up (Spoiler Alert). Reporters investigate the meaning of that last word that remains a mystery until the famous last scene when a sled, used by Kane as a child is tossed into the fire with the word Rosebud seen with the flames enclosing it.
I remember it well: We all wanted it to snow with the hope that those l in charge of the city would close the schools. I grew up in a blue-collar factory city, home of Singers Sewing Machines, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Because the leaders that made such decisions were hesitant to shut down the factories, light snows were not enough to close the schools inasmuch as children then might not have a parent to take care of them. You needed a snow storm that would paralyze the city, temporarily, rendering driving virtually impossible. One reason I relocated to Southern California was my distaste and discomfort for cold weather. But if it snowed, I, like most kids, was impervious to the cold. To us kids, snow was like manna from heaven. Lots of snow meant a day off from school but it also meant you could do all sorts of things that were out of the ordinary such as make snowmen, have snowball fights and go sleigh riding.
In Elizabeth, there were two streets that would be closed off to the traffic that offered both a good slope and pitch for us kids to go down: Keats Avenue and Wyoming Avenue. I had the good fortune to live near enough to both of those streets to be able to tote my sled on foot to either one. Of the two, I preferred Keats Avenue. Although it was a shorter ride down than Wyoming, Keats had a hill much steeper allowing one to gain a much faster speed than what was afforded by the less steep gradient of Wyoming. Thus, my sleigh ride stomping grounds was pretty much Keats, and if I wanted a change of pace, I would walk over to Wyoming.
At the top of Keats Avenue, Esther Stavis, the mother of George, a classmate of mine, would offer all of us a hot chocolate. It was a warm and welcoming respite fortifying us from the cold. I don’t remember any bullying or rough housing or the need to compete on how fast one could go down the hill. Insofar as there were so few snow days off from school, there simply was no room for that sort of behavior. We all were out to have a good time and celebrate the fact that there was no school that day.
Amazingly, I only have one negative memory about a School Free Snow Day. I remember, on one occasion, how distraught I felt in losing three dollars when I had gotten to the base of the hill after a great ride down. This seems like a small amount of cash nowadays, but given inflation, over a long period of time, that three dollars had a current value of about $33. I had just earned that money from shoveling, and had stashed it away in one of my deepest pockets. But now it was gone. When I walked up to the top of Keats, saddened by my recent lost, two kids, with big grins on their faces, one of whom I knew fairly well, told me they had recovered three dollars in the snow. When I told them that I had just lost the same amount, they appeared crestfallen and did not want to believe me. Because I did not have the reputation of being a liar, they reluctantly returned my money. I thanked them copiously letting out a sigh of relief. So even this situation that started off being negative had a positive ending!
There were no virtual realities to distract us from the touch and feel of the snow. Our parents knew where we were going and, if anything, encouraged us to go. We didn’t have cell phones to check in with mom or dad or fiddle with in the snow. We were in an age before the helicopter parents. Contacting friends with a cell phone or texting messages would have killed the spontaneity of play that a heavy snowfall would bring. We might be required to shovel the yard and the front before any snow plowing had come our way. We were motivated, and so, we did it as fast as we could without much regard to its appearance. Once we were done with the requested shoveling, we were on our way.
Yes, it gives me much joy in recollecting those days. Those were pristine days where we were free of the complications and vagaries of life that we would have to face later in our lives. They lasted for a brief span of time when we were in elementary school. If I recall correctly, by the time we entered junior high school, there were other more interesting and challenging ways we would spend our time. But sleigh riding was a joy of childhood that we lucky kids that owned sleds could experience even in the freezing cold. It was a time of innocence that remains, to this day for me, unforgettable. It was that innocence, that Citizen Kane remembered and cherished, evidenced by his last word: Rosebud.