Of Bread bags and Onion belts…

Three straight days of rain and fog. Weather like this takes me back to the perma-gloom of my youth in 1970’s Western New York. It is a little known fact that from 1968 until 1986 the sun did not shine between the months of November and April. The weather fluctuated between massive lake effect snow storms, and drizzle, but there was a permanent blanket of clouds overhead. Or maybe it just seemed that way.

Mud season was always my favorite time for walking home from school. Well, so long as I got past the intersection of Washington and Summit Avenue’s before the Batavia State Correctional Facility Junior High School released their inmates. Sitting with anticipation, watching the clock tick, slowly, inexorably towards dismissal until finally we could put our books away, and go to the coat rack at the back of the room and get ready to go home. Sitting there in the steamy heat of the classroom, amidst the ever present smell of chalk dust and pencil shavings, we’d struggle to pull on our galoshes over our shoes. You always knew what kind of bread your classmates ate at home, by the bread bags that they placed over their shoes to make the boots go on and off easier. These were the days before Gore-Tex, and Water proof nylon. Boots only came in two styles. Black galoshes with zippers, and black galoshes with buckles. Mom always bought me the zipper ones, and I looked with envy at the buckle kids and their carefree, insouciant style of half un-buckled boots as they clomped their way down the hallway, jingling like reindeer.

St. Joseph's School - Standard Issue

Outside the weather turned the sidewalks into puddles of water, beneath glacial ice caps. Step on them and little geysers of water would shoot up around your feet. The dirt specked banks of snow were as hard as sandstone by then, but it didn’t matter. Spring was coming, and there were mud puddles to play in. I think the joy and fascination with mud puddles is one of those universal things that kids in every culture share. I don’t care if you are in the white deserts of Lapland, the green Jungles of South America, or a dusty village in Western China. Put a kid in front of a mud puddle and they cannot resist stepping into it.

I’d make the trek home to 20 Prospect with my head down, eyes focused on the ground, trying to squirt little geysers of water skyward with each step, fascinated by the bubbles of air trying to escape from beneath the melting gray sheaf of ice. Galoshes or not, I still came home dripping wet, my blue Dickies soaked to the knee, and my gloves as wet as washcloths. I’d lay the gloves on the heat register to dry, then run upstairs to change into play clothes, drop my school uniform in the hamper, and get a snack. There was nothing better than a stack of saltine crackers smothered in butter, and a seat in front of the TV, as the Soap Opera’s ended, and granny let me switch on Ranger Bob.

In our pre-information age world, every kid in range of the Channel 31 UHF signal was tuning in for cartoons interspersed with wacky humor from a fake cowboy wearing a giant foam rubber cowboy hat. I’m sorry for sounding like Grandpa Simpson, but kids these days with their Nintendos, their Internets, and their Sponge Bobbers don’t know what they are missing. Watching old re-runs of Woody Woodpecker, and Tom-n-Jerry through the snowstorm of the UHF signal is about as good as it got for a 10 year old kid in 1978.

Which reminds me of the time I went over to Shelbyville during the war. I wore an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. You couldn’t get those white ones, you could only get the big yellow ones…

Mr. 20 Prospect

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