Sunday, March 22, 2015

Onion Snow and Spring

Two days ago, we experienced—I pray—the final snowfall of the season. It was a few inches in total that began accumulating in the waning hours of wintertime and ended in the fledgling ones of spring. My mother, who grew up in place called Bangor, Pennsylvania, always referred to the last snows of the season—usually in March but on occasion in April—as “onion snows.” White stuff that is essentially here today and gone tomorrow, which was precisely what happened with this past snow. The March sun on the morning after performed a yeoman's job—despite it still being pretty cold outside—in melting it all away. "Walker beware" was the rule as icicles and miscellaneous hunks of snow fast and furiously tumbled from trees and buildings.

I am both older and colder in winter. I can at long last understand why so many retired people leave the environs of New York City for Florida during the winter months and, in many cases, for one and all seasons. I, too, can now envision living in warmer climes all year round, although I doubt I ever will. Once upon a time when youthful exuberance careened through my veins, snow had mass appeal to me. Sometimes it caused the schools to close, which was always welcome. Playing tackle football courtesy of a blanket of snow on the concrete, which we couldn’t do in the summertime, was quite fun. And watching the snow fly in real time was a real treat as well. I still appreciate the beauty of a snow event, but concerns of what my life will very soon be like—with all the ensuing hardships—tarnish the pretty picture pretty fast. They quickly drown out the peaceful evocation of Tony Bennett singing “Snowfall.” 

Honestly, I could never have conceived as a boy that I wouldn’t welcome—with open arms and Christmas-like anticipation—a blizzard. Compared to the past couple of decades, big snowfalls were pretty rare when I was a kid on the streets of the Bronx. When they did occur, the spectacles always brought friends and neighbors together. People of all ages—often multiple generations of families—were out shoveling and cavorting in the Winter Wonderland. Some of that fraternity is still found in a snow's wake, but a whole lot less of it.

If nothing else, bad winters—and this one was the coldest in my living memory—make one really pine for and appreciate spring when it does arrive. As I write these words, it's cold outside—some fifteen degrees below normal in the mid-thirties. But still, it feels like spring and looks like spring with only specks of "onion snow" remaining on the ground and some larger piles of the white stuff—although they are not so white anymore—scattered about. These remnants of the multiple snows of this past winter in building and business parking lots stand as testaments to what was and what soon will be only a memory.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Rotten Eggs Are in the Nose of the Beholder

This morning I experienced a peculiar olfactory moment. A transitory scent wafting in the winter air suddenly, and without fair warning, brought me back to the New Jersey Turnpike. Most of my memories of the turnpike—and the area of northern New Jersey approaching the George Washington Bridge—are positive, even if they often smelled of rotten eggs and resembled the Industrial Revolution on steroids. You see, for me, the majority of times spent traversing the turnpike were pleasure related—the Bronx boy vacationing at the Jersey Shore, going to Philadelphia to catch a glimpse of the Liberty Bell and a baseball game at Veteran’s Stadium, or on a grammar school field trip to our nation’s capital.

The rotten egg stink in the air around parts of the turnpike and nearby thoroughfares—in what is a heavily industrialized sliver of New Jersey—was typically sweet smelling. That singular sliver of geography admirably served as a passageway from one world to another. As a boy, my sense of wonder knew no boundaries. The turnpike perfume coupled with the lay of the land outside the car windows supplied a unique, almost unforgiving ambiance. “Salty ocean air is just around the corner,” it said. Sometimes on my way to visit the maternal grandparents in Bangor, Pennsylvania, it cried, “Bucolic green and cornfields are just over that ridge.” The mess of traffic by the bridge and accompanying pollution served a purpose, I suppose. Leaving the city for a welcome change of scenery was always appreciated, and the sights, sounds, and smells in getting to our destinations were key ingredients in all the journeys.

Returning, as I recall, from whence we came was a different experience—usually bittersweet. The vacation’s over. It’s back to the heat and humidity of a New York City summer. On these return trips, the rotten egg aroma was no longer a sweet bouquet, but pretty disgusting. With the majestic city skyline looming to the east, any feelings of loss—of a vacation ending for instance—waged battle with the homecoming. At the end of the day, I guess, it was always good to breathe Bronx air again, while looking forward with wide-eyed anticipation to the next adventure, the next inhalation of rotten eggs, and the next sighting of oil refineries spewing soot and grime into the heavens. It’s a life lesson for sure: Rotten eggs are—really—in the nose of the beholder.

(Photo 2 from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)