Wintertime Down Neck

by Karen Zautyk


The weather report warns of snow, and I await the storm with glee. Unlike many of my friends (some of whom have moved to Florida to escape N.J. winters), I delight in flakes and frost – and that delight was born in the long-ago storms in Down Neck Newark.

Back in the day, if snow were predicted, the forecast would not lead off the nightly  news (along with a dramatic mayoral press conference detailing how many salt-spreaders and plows would be out to save us from disaster).

Neither would my parents rush off to the store to stock up on food in case we were trapped inside for a day – but if they had done so, I’m sure the shelves would have been full, unlike today when shelves are stripped bare by panicked shoppers within hours of a snow forecast.
Used to be, people just coped.

I can recall when the first snow “warning” was the sound of jingling chains on the tires of the cars travelling down Oxford St.  I’d awake to that music and jump out of bed: If the snow was deep, there’d be no school! And we could play outside all day!

Play we did -- all bundled up in jackets and slacks and hats and mittens and rubber boots. We frolicked for hours – in the courtyards at the Prudential Apartments, on the sidewalks along Oxford and Lexington Streets. and in the park bordering the Passaic River.  We romped and rolled around in the drifts and made snow angels and snowmen. Our snowmen were not well-off enough to sport a muffler or a hat (much less a Frosty top hat). I don’t think we ever had a carrot for the nose. But we could always find sticks for his arms and enough stones for his nose, his eyes, his buttons and a big smile. (Of course, he smiled. He was living in the Pru!)

During the day, we also visited St. Aloysius Church. Yes, we might kneel in a pew and say a prayer – but our prime reason for stopping there was the radiator in the vestibule. On it, we would dry our snow-soaked mittens – or at least warm them up enough to comfortably wear them again and continue our arctic adventures.

Oddly, I don’t recall snowball fights – not among the girls, anyway -- though one of my Down Neck friends said we did have such battles and even built snow forts. The only snow fort I remember was a huge one (two levels high?) that some of the boys constructed at the northeast corner of Oxford St. and Fleming Ave. after a particularly mean blizzard. It seemed like it took weeks for the structure to melt. It did last long enough to turn from white to murky gray.

I also recall a long snowy hike with a friend along a trafficless Raymond Blvd. on what must have been the day following a storm: The sun was out. Is it possible the street had not yet been plowed? We trudged all the way uptown from Oxford St. to Broad St. and back.  (BTW: What other Newarkers called “downtown,” Down Neck folk called “uptown.”)  The normally bustling business district was quiet, and there were snow piles everywhere. Although these images are sharp, I cannot remember which friend shared this adventure. I’ve called a couple (yes, we are still in touch after decades), but they did not remember this hike. Another mystery.

However, one mystery has been solved.

As I was writing about school being closed on snowy days, it occurred to me: How did my mother KNOW about the closure? The nuns at St. Al’s wouldn’t have been phoning all our homes. Mary Jane DeFroscia (a friend since 1st grade) had the answer:  In the early morning, closures were reported on WOR radio!  The announcer would read through the N.J. list and, if we were lucky, at some point you would hear: “Schools of the Archdiocese of Newark.” Yippee!
(And all this time, I thought the official announcement came from the tire chains.)



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