June 18, 2024
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You Think That was a Bad Winter?

I think I want to invest in The Jewish Link. Why? Because it is evidently read by many people. How do I know that? Because the day after my latest article “Memories of Another Bad Winter” appeared in the Link, many people came up to me in shul to tell me they thought other winters were much worse. Now, I never said the winter of 1968-9 was the worst ever, I just said it was a bad winter with one incredibly bad storm. But their suggestions got me to thinking of what really was the worst winter we’ve ever experienced. We all know this winter was really bad. But we’ve had worse. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Some Background

Officially, the granddaddy of all winters was 1995-6, which featured a record 78.4 inches at Newark Airport, including the Blizzard of 1996. But for the Friedman household, the winter of 1993-4 was much worse, even though somewhat less snow fell. Mikki and Ben were two energetic little boys who fought all the time, and Leyna was in her early teens. Ben was especially energetic – our cleaning lady at the time said that in her country they would call him the “Blond Devil Child” – and Ellen and I had not yet made the connection between sugar intake and his energy level. With his very blond hair, he was sort of like an animated Q-Tip. I traveled very often, and our house had not yet been expanded. And there were lots of snow days that winter. Lots of snow days. You get the idea. I can better paint the picture with the short vignettes below.

The Great Escape

Back in those pre-web days, Yeshiva cancellations were communicated via phone tree. I think we were the first call on the list. Someone from the school would call here at 6 a.m. to tell us school was cancelled. Then we called five other parents, and so on. That winter, the phone rang a lot at 6 a.m. One morning, after umpteen snow days, it snowed again. There was about 6 inches on the ground when I got up, but the radio said NJ Transit buses were running. I got dressed and pondered whether to go to work. At 6 a.m., the phone rang. I immediately decided to sprint like a greyhound for the bus stop on Queen Anne Road. I almost escaped.

I was waiting for the 167 bus, when I thought I heard someone screaming off in the distance. I couldn’t make out what this person was saying, but he or she was coming toward me through the raging storm. Then I recognized this individual. It was Ellen, dressed in boots, a nightgown, my ski jacket, and a ski hat. And soon I realized what she was saying: “George!! Do NOT get on that bus!!!” She evidently could not bear the thought of another snow day trapped alone at home with Leyna, Mikki, and the Blond Devil Child. When she got to me, she had this crazed look in her eyes, kind of like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.” I meekly trudged back home with her.

The Pishing Wall

A few weeks later we had a bit of a thaw. It warmed up and rained and the snow, which at that point was a foot and a half high, began to melt. And melt. That Friday morning I was yanked out of a meeting to take an urgent call from home. Ellen and I had this conversation:

ME: What is it?

ELLEN: The basement wall is pishing.

ME: It’s what?

ELLEN: Pishing. The basement wall is pishing.

ME: I don’t underst…

ELLEN: The basement wall is pishing! You need to get home to fix it before Shabbos.

So, I went home and, indeed, the wall was pishing. The warm temperatures, heavy rain, and melting snow had created a little stream of water coming out of the wall. It reminded me of the Blond Devil Child, who also had a tendency to pish without warning in odd places. This incident prompted Ellen to write “A Yeshiva Mom’s Ode to an Endless Winter,” which started off with her commenting about the pretty early snowfall and how nice it was that our Gentile neighbors were having snow for the holidays, and ended with her speaking in tongues and her head spinning like “The Exorcist.”

TMI

That winter, I also learned that too much information can be a bad thing. As I mentioned above, I travelled often, and as a result I missed some of the storms that winter. One of them happened on a Shabbos when I was away in Los Angeles. My plans to return home on the “Red Eye” Saturday night were thwarted by the storm. Sunday morning I called Ellen, who by that point had been stuck in the house with the kids for three days. With baseball season upon us, I’ll use a baseball metaphor to describe our conversation:

ME: Hi, hon. I got on a flight back on Monday morning. And guess what? I got upgraded to First Class! Strike One.

ELLEN: That’s nice. What are you doing now?

ME: Oh, I slept in. Right now I’m reading the Sunday paper and having breakfast on my veranda, but I think I’m going to move back into the room because the sun is kind of hot. Strike two.

ELLEN: Well, it’s freezing here, we are totally plowed in, Mikki has a bad stomach, Leyna hates me, and I think Ben has another ear infection. How are you planning to spend your free day?

ME: Oh, it’s just so delightful here in LA. I’m going to play some golf with a board member at his country club up in Beverly Hills. Strike Three. Yer out!

Lesson Learned

I dined that night at a kosher Chinese place. My fortune cookie said “When winter is very bad and you are in a warm place, some things to the wife are best left unsaid.” That was too little, too late for me, but I remembered it for the next snowstorm.

George Friedman and his wife Ellen are members of Congregation Beth Aaron. They have lived in Teaneck for 37 years. He is one of the co-owners of Lose-Win Situation. Their kids survived that winter and grew up to be well-balanced adults – even the “Blond Devil Child.”

By George Friedman

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