The huge volume of snow that has paralyzed our town over the last five weeks brought back memories for me of long ago winters when I was young, back in those post-war years in the middle of the last century.
Somehow in my eyes as a child, these snow bluffs that have appeared everywhere in this February of 2015 seem not so different from the hills of snow we would traverse as children on our little dead-end street off Gallivan Blvd in the late 1940s. Of course, I was just three or four feet tall in those years, so it seemed that I was always looking up at snow piles all over the neighborhood. But in my memory, this year’s weather seems not unlike the winters I grew up with.
It was a time when winter really was for kids. Mostly we young children were bundled up and sent outdoors at the first sight of the snowflakes, and soon we were having great fun, playing king of the mountain on the snow piles, or steering our Flexible Flyer sleds down any nearby decline. If memory serves, the slope on Vera Street was barely usable for coasting, but a hop over the fence to Wilmington Ave. offered a fast-paced downhill glide that seemed it could last forever. And if you could make it four blocks down to Walsh Playground, those slopes from Clancy Road down to the ball field were our own Mount Olympus!
These were simpler times, though, with much less automobile traffic; at the first sign of winter, many people would remove the tires from their cars and wait out the season, leaving the vehicles on blocks in a nearby garage or backyard. And if your father was daring enough to keep the family auto on the road, it always required mounting a set of snow chains on the rear wheels, thus ensuring some measure of traction on the icy snow-covered streets. We didn’t own a family car, and for most of the year my aunt would share her Oldsmobile with my father for Sunday afternoon jaunts. But from just before Christmas to sometime around Easter Sunday, the Olds 88 – Mass license plate 707000 – was safely stored in a rented garage down on Pleasant Hill Ave.
Back in those days, my father worked in Charlestown for the MTA (nee Boston Elevated, now the T), supervising what was known as the “Maintenance of the Way.” Many times, when he would hear on the radio a forecast of snow the next day, John Forry would head in to work right after supper as he and other transit workers mobilized to be sure the trains, trolleys, and buses could run the next day.
The strategy then was to keep the trains running all night long, on the solid premise that empty trains running along the rails would prevent an icy build-up on the third rail and diminish the piles before the snow could mount up. He labored through the night, often staying for two or more days at work, with the singular purpose of keeping the transit system operational so people could get to work when the storm had passed.
It seemed so simple and straightforward then; my father, a 49-year member of the Boston Carmen’s Union, Local 589 who retired in 1966, would never believe the tumult that has fallen on Boston during this crazy winter of 2015. For him, shutting down the public transportation system was just unheard of.
Today, 49 years later, I remember the example he and his steady stable of working men and women set. In another setting, they were called “The Greatest Generation.” To borrow the words of New England’s football coach, “they did their jobs.”