It had started snowing late the night before, and it continued through the Saturday morning, ending just about noon. All told we got about three inches of the stuff. I was 23 years old, and we were living in the upstairs apartment on 18th Avenue at the time, and we had nothing to do and nowhere to go for the rest of the weekend.
Shortly after noon, after it stopped snowing, I put on the old army fatigue jacket that Jack Anderson had given me about three years earlier, a stocking cap, a pair of gloves and my rubber boots. On the back landing, just outside of the entrance to our apartment, I grabbed the little metal snow shovel and began clearing off the steps of the stairway. It was cold but not too cold, probably in the low twenties. It felt warmer when the clouds moved out and were replaced by the bright January sun. The snow was light and powdery, and I felt good as I moved to the bottom of the steps.
Next, I cleared the little gravel driveway we shared with the woman who rented the downstairs apartment. Once I had finished that, I started on the sidewalk in front of the house. Compared to the rutted gravel of the driveway, the sidewalk was a breeze, and I was able to quickly get to the end of the property line. The house the apartment was in bordered a vacant lot that was the corner of 18th Avenue and 45th street. I had been outside only a few minutes and had cleared the back steps, the driveway and the sidewalk in front of our house. I felt good and had nothing else to do, so I figured, what the Hell, I may as well keep going.
I cleared the sidewalk to 45th street, then, heading east, I cleared the 45th street side of the corner lot. When that was done, I found myself in front of another old, two story house, with sidewalks and a driveway hadn’t been cleared yet. I felt good, and I didn’t want to stop, so I kept going, and started on the sidewalk in front of the house. About halfway thru, the front door opened. An old, frail man I had never seen before stood in the doorway.
“Thank you”, he said.
“Don’t mention it”, I replied.
“Would you mind doing my driveway, too?”
“Sure, no problem”, I said, quickly surveying the short, cement two care driveway. With the snow this powdery and light, I figured I could knock it off in a few minutes.
“Thank you so much”, he said, and went back inside.
I quickly finished the sidewalk in front of his house, and it didn’t take me long to do his driveway. Every now and then I’d glance to the window, and each time he was standing there, stooped over, watching me
I finished the driveway and turned my attention to the short cement walkway that ran from the sidewalk to his front porch. I made quick work of it and just as I was finishing up, the front door opened again. My guess was that he was going to offer me a few bucks for my work.
“Thank you again,” he said. “When you finish up, why don’t you come inside for a few minutes”
I nodded my head and he closed the door. It was only a couple of more minutes when I finished. Standing on the steps to the front door, I was just about to knock when it opened.
“Come on in, come on in.” I stepped in, and he took my coat and I took off my boots. He motioned for me to sit in a chair in his living room. Then he went to the kitchen. He came back with two glasses filled with a golden brown liquid.
“Cold out there, huh?”, he said, handing me a glass.
“Not too bad”, I said.
“Well, drink some of this, this’ll warm you up.” He sat in a chair across from me. It was warm and very good. I was able to recognize it as brandy.
We sat there in the warmth of his living room, surrounded by framed photos of what I assumed to be children and grand children and great grand children. The room looked like it belonged to a bygone era. We talked about the cold, we talked about his health – there was something wrong with his lungs that made breathing cold air difficult – but mostly he talked about brandy and how whatever kind it was that we were drinking was top of the line stuff. When the first glass was finished, he bought me a second glass, this one of a different, more famous make of brandy, and he explained to me why the second one was inferior to the first. I didn’t know anything about any of that; I just knew they were both warm and good.
We sat and drank brandy and talked for about a half an hour. After I had finished the second glass, he offered me a third, which I politely declined, saying if I drank any more I might not be able to find my way around the corner to home. I got up and put my boots and coat on, and as he thanked me again, I took one last look at his living room. It was so warm and comfortable. There has always been something sacred, something even holy, about people’s living rooms, especially the ones belonging to strangers who invite you in.
It was about 3:00 when I left and started back for home, feeling a little bit of a buzz from the brandy and a contented ache in my bones from the work and the cold air. The sun was still out but lowering in the west. I grabbed my shovel and walked back home. I was 23 years old, and the future lay out before me like an undisturbed coat of fresh snow on an endless city sidewalk, waiting to be uncovered.