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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Valentine

Snowsuits and Sunglasses

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. - Lao Tzu

Have you ever tried something that you knew was a little out of the realm of expectation, but you were willing to experience the consequences. Being honest, it would just get you in trouble?

We grew up in the wonderful Highbridge Garden apartments, a housing development in the west Bronx. We had wonderful views of the Harlem River, the east side of Manhattan, all modes of transportation (trains, planes, cars, and ships) and the wonderful landscape that makes the city of New York great. On a clear day, I could see past Manhattan to New Jersey. I knew it was New Jersey because the Palisades Amusement Park had a beautiful Ferris wheel and we could see it moving at night. It was a very pretty sight.

When my sister and I were little, my mom, like normal adults would catch up on her sleep on the weekend. We knew not to disturb her. We would get up, make our cereal and settle in with Saturday morning cartoons. This particular day, mom was sleeping a little later than normal. My sister and I (maybe more I) decided we wanted to go to the park. We knocked on her bedroom door – no answer. We went next door to our auntie’s house to see if she would take us. She was busy doing something else and didn’t have time to take us. She also warned us to go back next door and not disturb our mom. Well, we would not be deterred. We were GOING to the park.

It was a pretty early spring day in New York, but one of those days that you really couldn’t tell if it was just sunny and warm, or if it was really cold. We got dressed in our snowsuits and sunglasses and headed to the elevator. We will little girls at this time, not older than 6 yearsold so we couldn’t reach the buttons in the elevator. My brother had made a wooden stool in shop class. We used that stool anytime we needed to get to a higher place vantage point. The stool would help us get to the park. The plan is now set - two little girls, snowsuits, sunglasses and the stool.

Nelson Avenue park is two blocks away. This is another instance when I didn’t have the good sense to be afraid. I knew how to cross the street. I would hold my sister’s hand to keep her safe and we ARE going to the park. The first street has no light, but we cross with no problem. It’s just a two way. The next street is the major street - Ogden Avenue. The bus runs on this street, but there is a light. Easy breezy. We cross the street without a problem. After crossing Nelson Avenue, we arrive at the park. Yippee, Oh Joy, Oh Rapture. The swings, the sliding board, the see saw. I don’t think we got on the seesaw. We wanted on those swings.

Back at the ranch…Mom wakes up and quickly realizes that her children are not in the apartment. She runs next door. We are not with auntie. She asks the neighbor that we played with across the street. Since 1950 apartments don’t have air conditioning, we would sometimes have picnics or tea parties with our dolls on a blanket in the hallway in between the apartments while we propped the doors open to get some cross ventilation. They had no clue where we were. Then mom remembers we wanted to go to the park and even though this is implausible for these two little girls who can’t even reach the buttons in the elevator, it’s her only clue.

In her words she slapped her wig on sideways and runs out of the house to the park. Back in these days, everyone in the neighborhood knew you and looked out for you. So while we were going unaccompanied, we were going under watchful eyes. She when the crazed woman with the lopsided wig asked anyone who would listen if they’d seen two little girls, they said yes they were headed to the park. Mom said she then asked them, “Why didn’t you stop them?” You have to know my mom. She was a no nonsense kind of lady so if her children were walking to the park on a pretty spring day in their snowsuits and sunglasses, carrying a stool, she must have sent them out of the house that way. They certainly weren’t going to interfere with those children, but they knew to watch out for them.

She gets to the park and we are enjoying the time of our lives. Running in and out of the bathroom getting water because we are so thirsty running around the park. “Hi Mom.” We are expecting her to join in the fun.

Without one word, she snatches both of us and starts the march back home. We are making sure we have our glasses and of course the stool. We made it back to the house in one piece, but for days it seemed anyone who would listen heard this embarrassing story. I don’t recall the punishment that ensued but that may be because I have a very selective memory these days…

As we got older, this is the most hilarious family story so it had to be included in this blog. To make sure we didn’t have the same experience while the fella were little, we had sensors on each of the doors. If anyone was trying to escape, I could hear them. So the next time you pass a park or someone little asks to go to the park, I hope this story gives you a grin.

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