New Year’s Eve 1941

By Ellie Levin

Our families’ lake in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains was frozen solid in the winter of 1941, thick enough for wild, redheaded cousin Dick, home from Yale for a week or two, to plow a large area of snow near our shallow end of the lake. His family’s house was on the opposite shore where the current ran and would have been less safe. By our shore, he and cousin Harry, home from Annapolis, laid kindle and logs enough for a bonfire to warm skaters’ hands and feet as the temperature fell. After supper we slung our skates over our shoulders and headed down the hill toward the lake, the light bursting from the ice reflecting the rays back from the stars the further out we skated, our parents calling out, “Come back!” We could see our cousins walking across the frozen lake to our shore to join us.

We danced on our toes, glided across the ice spread eagle, and skated double Dutch until our hands and noses were numb. Warmed by the fire, we sailed back out, making several more forays on to the ice before we were ordered to take off our skates, and, in our boots, trek up hill to the party where house guests and relatives sat or stood with a glass of cheer in their hands. There was eggnog, plain or with rum, coffee and tea, steak tartar on toast, plum cake soaked in liquor, cookies and milk.

My brother and I struggled with sleepiness to stay up until the clock struck midnight. Some adults were already napping in the ground floor guestroom. When midnight finally came, we were kissed and hugged, wished a Happy New Year, and told to go upstairs to bed. We were now wide awake and reluctant, but we obeyed.

This would be our last skating party on New Year’s in our country house that I can remember. Soon there would not be enough gasoline available to civilians to motor from New York City. President Roosevelt had declared war on the Axis Powers, meat and butter were rationed. Our father had volunteered his medical services to help the Allies win the war. For the next four years, our family would reside near army hospitals in southern states with scorching summers and warm winters.

By the time we were back in New York in 1946, I was a teenager distracted from the pure joy of the early years by boys, clothes, and school assignments. New Year’s Eve became one more thing to worry about. Would I have a date? What would I wear? Would my date want to be at our family’s celebration? Anyway, after Thanksgiving, my parents decided to drain our house’s pipes as they had for the years of our absence. My aunts and uncles had shut down their country homes for the winter during the war years and continued to do so in peace time. Dick had died while in medical school of a heart condition due to childhood rheumatic fever. Harry was serving in the U.S. Navy, and my other cousins were scattered.

Years later when my children were growing up, I remember one Christmas through New Year’s when the house was open, but the weather was so warm and out-of-doors so muddy that we took the children swimming at Grossinger’s hotel. Their father was a champion swimmer; both of our sons would be captains of their high school swim team. Another winter, the lake in Central Park was briefly solid enough to be open for skaters to enjoy the freedom of skating in a pattern of their choice. My immediate family put on skates and joined me. They soon tired. But for me, still even now, chilly temperatures, tired muscles, aching feet, always fade in the glow of the good times and simple joys of skating long ago with my brother and cousins on the little lake in the mountains.

Love

By Lydia LaFleur

Not only was it raining with a forecast of heavy at times but the wind was fierce, making it treacherous for me to venture out.  When I called the Eye Institute, I was told that if I canceled my appointment, the ophthalmologist wouldn’t be able to see me for at least two more weeks.  But I have to see her as soon as possible, because I might have glaucoma and if it’s diagnosed early enough, they can inject medication in the eye so I won’t go blind. Sorry.  Rather than worrying for the next two weeks, I said I’d keep the appointment.  I’d have to go out come what may, hoping that someone would come to my rescue.  That someone was down in the lobby – Marlo who had been my personal trainer for several years, asking where I was going in this weather.  My guardian angel was already at her job. The last time Marlo had appeared at my door was over a year ago when I was close to dying from congestive heart failure, taking me to the hospital and probably saving my life.  I knew he was on the verge of saying he would drive me this time too, but I told him car service was waiting outside for me.  He walked me the distance to the car holding my arm firmly as we battled the wind.  I would surely have been knocked down if I’d been by myself.  The cab driver, Mr. Gomez, was just as solicitous.  When I told him I was wondering how I’d get back home, he wrote down his cell phone number so I could call him fifteen minutes before leaving.  When we arrived at the Eye Institute, he got out to accompany me to the entrance getting drenched himself, because an umbrella in this wind was useless.  The waiting room was full of patients including several mothers with babies, one looking as if newly born.  I wondered how in the world they managed to get here.

I had been there only the previous week for my six months’ check up seeing a specialist for my macular degeneration.  Nothing had changed I was relieved to hear.  However, further tests when I told her that for the past month I’d been having a grating like pain in my right eye; she said the eye was clear but that I should see a glaucoma doctor to rule out my having that disease.  Now I was concerned; I had known a neighbor who lost most of her vision to glaucoma.   Hence my return to the Institute four days later.  I was there for two hours having more tests, some of which appeared to be a repeat from last week’s.   Ophthalmologists seem to have an easy job these days; their assistants doing all the preliminary work, the doctor coming in only at the end for five minutes or so to make the diagnosis.  After all that, the verdict was no glaucoma.  But why does the eye ache?  It’s from the dryness of the air.  That’s it? After braving buffeting winds and rain and after two hours of tests, it’s only dry air? I remembered that during the cold spells, I had used a space heater, but some fresh air had surely come in through the window cracks and air conditioners.  Solution: increase the eye drops to three times a day, use GenTeal, an eye lubricant at night, and warm compresses.

The waiting room was almost empty by the time I left.  I was relieved to see the rain had stopped and the wind died down.  Mr. Gomez came to get me and once again got out to help me into his car.  When I held out $22 (the fare going had been $12) saying if that was enough, he looked perplexed and asked me what it was for, but when I told him that’s what I was paying him for taking care of me that day, he said, “That’s too much.” I insisted he take $20, but he seemed hesitant.  Amazing! I needed to pick up my new glasses so asked him to take me to LensCrafters on 107th St. and B’way. It was now beginning to get dark and had turned very cold.  I was wearing my red hood, boots, and voluminous red down coat that is down to my ankles, my having shrunk two and a half inches since I bought it forty-five years ago.  I was very tired and remembered that all I’d had to eat that day was the delicious smoothie that my granddaughter Sarah and her husband Chris make me every morning and which usually keeps me going for several hours.  But by now, I was walking in slow motion.

At 110th Street I saw the #4 bus at the corner waiting for the light to change.  Usually when the street light signals ten seconds or less, I don’t attempt to cross, but maybe this time I could make it and catch that bus.  I waved with my cane to the bus driver to wait, but couldn’t see the driver’s face in the dark.  At that moment someone took my arm saying, “I’ll get you across.”  I looked up to see a young African American youth who could not have been more than 19 or 20 years old smiling at me.  “I hope that bus driver waits for me.”

“You want to get that bus?  We’ll make it,” and he signaled to the bus driver as he brought me to the bus.  Grateful to the bus driver for waiting but at the same time wondering if the young man was going to ask me for some tip money and wondering how to deal with that and get out my bus pass at the same time.  The young man followed helping me get up into the bus.  Oh, he too was going to take this bus. “I’ll get the card out when I sit down,” I told the bus driver as I heard the young man insert his card. The bus driver said. “Sit down” to me at the same time I heard the young man say, “I already paid for you” and leaped off the bus.  I’m sure he saw the surprise and gratitude on my face and my mouthing “thank you” as we smiled warmly at each other through the bus window.  I watched him go in the opposite direction, so I realized that he had been crossing the street when he saw me struggling to make it to the curb and turned around to help me. It was an act of Love that I had just experienced, of one human being for another.  Such a feeling of love enveloped my whole being!  I had encountered love that day from the moment I had left my apartment.

Hectic Time

By Hardison Geer

My friends urged me to get a new desk before my birthday, as my old one was breaking down. I ordered one on line and waited to hear something. Meanwhile I worked intermittently at getting ready for a birthday party on the 29th…officially my birthday is the 28th but it is highly likely that I was actually born on the 29th. A few days before the party I was informed the party would have to be delayed because Natasha had a wedding to shoot.

On the 28th I received a phone call that my desk would arrive on the 29th between 9 and 5 and I would receive a call half an hour before it came. Finally at 6:20 the call came. It would arrive in 15 minutes. I was worried about how I would handle it as it weighed 220 lbs. and was supposed to be left at the curbside. Fortunately the driver was sympathetic and, using a hand operated forklift, moved the carton from the truck into the lobby and the elevator. Leaving the forklift inn the lobby he rode up with me and helped me get it to my door. Very nice of him.

Instead of trying to get it into my living room I unpacked it in the in the hall and carried the parts in. Saturday I spent much of the day starting to assemble the desk. In the evening I had to get ready for church as Julie and I were going to The Greek Orthodox cathedral for Easter services. Julie was running late and we barely made it on time. As always the service ended late, and it was after 2:00 am when we retrieved her car from the lot and headed home. I pried myself out of bed in time for church at 11:00 but did not make it in time because the D train was running local and just creeping the first three or four stations. After church I went home and napped.

About 8 pm I watched the news on my phone and was shocked to learn that the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral on West 25th street was on fire. I posted something on Facebook and went to bed. I think they might need a small subsidy or two.

Today I arose and realized I have to get some thing ready for Susan. Well here it is.