By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 10/21/2017
Occurred: 12/25/1956
Topics/Keywords: #Autobiography Page Views: 704
Four-year-olds don't necessarily know when to come in out of the cold.

Winter in New Jersey always surprised me. One day, it would be perfectly nice outside; the next, Mom would wrap me up in a coat so thick I could barely move my arms, and then tell me to go out and play!

Outside, the air would be bitterly crisp, and the snow—having fallen the night before—would be unbearably bright. Or, days later, it would be charcoal-trimmed from the exhaust fumes of the passing cars.

Or, the sky would be leaden and close, with thick, heavy snowflakes hanging in the air.

Late one such day, on New Year's Day, in fact, I decided to visit the neighbors.

Now, I had done this before. Forbidden to cross the street, no one had told me I couldn't go all the way around the block. One by one, I had knocked on the neighbors' doors and asked them if they had a record player and, if so, could I see it? Most had invited me in, given me cookies and milk, and allowed me to choose a record to listen to. In this way, I had discovered there were such things as automatic record changers, and long-playing records that rotated incredibly slowly but played beautifully.

I had even met the people on the far side of the block, people with dark brown faces and bright, white eyes and smiles, who never ever walked around to our side of the block (although I earnestly invited them to come and listen to my record player if they wanted).

So, on this particular day, I had made it most of the way down the block to a particularly nice, large, brick house, set back from the sidewalk. The woman who lived there had a record changer that played LPs, specially fascinating to watch. So, she and I kind of got lost in the music, so that when I left it was getting dark and the snow was falling heavily.

Before I could make it two homes' worth, the wind picked up and the snow was flying vertically, into my eyes and ears. I couldn't see the curb that separated the sidewalk from the street; even the streetlights were confusing.

Worse, I couldn't see the houses; so I couldn't judge my location. How far was it to my house? I didn't know. I was afraid that, if I couldn't see the street, I might accidentally cross it and find myself on another block, where I might never find my way home again. Understand, I wasn't terrified; I was merely trying to avoid an unpleasant future.

I realized I had been walking in the wrong direction when I got to the corner, and, instead of the candy store, found a tavern. Too cold to go on, I went inside.

There were two or three men sitting on bar stools and a bartender behind them, looking at me as if I were the last person any of them expected to walk in (which I probably was). Apparently, one of them recognized me, and called home to let my folks know where I was, then bought me a hot chocolate. The bartender put a marshmallow in it, which was not the way we did it at home and I tried to drink around it. But it tasted good; and then my father showed up. I was asleep before I got home, warm from the hot chocolate and warmer still from being safe in my daddy's arms.