“LOOK AT THE CRYSTALS!”

I suddenly find myself, only an hour advanced from the night’s sleep on this late October morning, thinking of a fine and innocent moment with a childhood friend, long lost, named Lorraine. It had snowed….we were walking. There were — crystals.

Meanwhile, each moment is nudging me further away from memory of those crystals into this new day; I sit here, exterior darkness only slowly lifting on the street with the falsely evocative name Caribbean Way, as I hear of a great, raging Nor’easter sweeping into New England. It is full of rain, not snow.

But I have known these damp autumnal Nor’easters, have seen them batter the window pane, had them lash my face, seep into my shoes. They can do harm, but like all weather, they can cleanse, rupture, gray over and necessarily, in nature’s way, sweep away the humdrum routines and securities of the average sunny day. Oh, if only that were all they flood and blow down and sweep away!

To paraphrase Tolstoy: all fair and sunny days are alike, but stormy days are stormy in their own way.

In the darkness without, I hear the bleating of the truck backing into the ugly utility area one door down. It is trash day. I must put out the trash.

In exactly one moment, the little hockey puck-size automatic voice machine in the dining area will send the pleasant, comforting disembodied, faux-human voice of a faux-human named Alexa — send it throughout this tin and vinyl space announcing the weather for this Florida day

There, I hear it…..

Right now in Largo, it is 54 degrees. Today’s forecast calls for mostly sunny weather, with a high of 84 and a low of 62 degrees.

So, at last, it is cooling here in the subtropics. The dank, relentless, unchanging heat of the five-month summer may at last be breaking, for the moment.

Another sunny day.

As for the lingering darkness — darkness, like cool weather, can be a comfort in Florida, for it sometimes seems a clime in which, like the prison cells of savage miscreants, the lights are always left on so the guards can keep an eye on them. But that is only my perception. There is a fair amount of ragged, private beauty here, too, between the macadam and utility areas. And who doesn’t like a sunny day?

The fact is, people, like raindrops, are raining down on this ‘paradise.’ Or, escaping to it. I did. Or I tried to. To escape, that is.

Good grief!

I had not meant to write so much. I had meant only simply to write of that moment with little Lorraine, my friend.

Her name was Lorraine Peters. Her older sister, friend to my teenage sister, was Anne. Both girls were red-headed with freckles, like my sister. On that winter’s day, we both would have been wearing winter coats. We were, perhaps, nine-years-old, maybe ten. I don’t recall how we happened to be together on a winter’s evening walking down steep, snow-covered Pope’s Hill Street to the corner of what had once been a dirt road named Sewell Street but was now a paved street named Salina Road. ( A far cry from Caribbean Way.) I lived a half block to west on Neponset Avenue. Lorraine lived perhaps two hundred yards to the southeast across an empty field on Freeport Street.

If the field was still there and not yet built over with a supermarket, or perhaps a supermarket under construction, then it was perhaps winter, 1957. I can’t be sure. Can’t pinpoint it.

It was time for both Lorraine and me to be home for supper, I’m sure.

The snow was fresh, the air clear and cold. The new snowfall — it had only been a moderate snowstorm, perhaps four or five inches — would soon be soiled with city grime, sand and dog urine. But now, it was pure and blue in the new darkness. And there had been enough of it, and apparently enough wind, to form little banks on street corners.

Lorraine would have been wearing a stocking cap. She was not pretty. No, rather plain, but very nice.

Had we been sledding on Pope’s Hill? Did we have our sleds with us? Was it before or after Christmas? I don’t recall. Lorraine was an intelligent little girl. Mature, good company. But I was not often in her company.

Suddenly, at the corner of Selina and Pope’s Hill (a short street likely named for some long-ago Yankee merchant long before we Irish moved to the neighborhood), Lorraine and I paused to admire a little bank of the new snow. It glowed — was there a dim street light nearby or was it after dinner already and a full moon was illuminating this bank of whiteness?

Or did that snow bank just seem to glow of its own cold magical inner essence? The fragile glow of the beautiful.

And suddenly I heard Lorraine in her high, buoyant voice say, “look at the crystals!”

She was talking of those pinpoints of light, like a starry firmament, that are the property of all freshly fallen snow.

And the pure essence of being civilized, springing up among people even so young as we were, is the capacity to discern beauty in nature, and to note it to another human.

Had I been with one of my young male friends, would he have pointed out that sparkle imbedded in the new-fallen snow? Were we young boys quite that “civilized” yet? Wasn’t it in the feminine nature to see it and, more especially, to note it? Am I permitted to speculate in these contentious times that the feminine spirit might well be the vanguard of civilization? For a snowbank should never just be — a snowbank.

“Look at the crystals!”

Even for Lorraine to see that glow and to name it “crystals” was to leave a crystalline impression on my nine (or ten) year old imagination.

I believe we parted soon thereafter. Perhaps we were pulling our sleds.

Over the next few years, Lorraine and Anne Peters from Freeport Street would be a presence in my young world, though I did not see that much of either of them and Lorraine was not among my immediate friends.

Then one day, well before I became an adult, the Peters family moved away.

But my sister Anne was one who, throughout her life — especially after the advent of the internet age — seemed to strive to re-connect with lost, almost forgotten neighbors. And while she was closer in age to Anne Peters, and knew her better, she received one day — I forget how or why — an internet correspondence from Lorraine Peters who was now living somewhere like Connecticut.

An exchange continued for a period between them. I know I mentioned to my sister that vivid moment of the snowy crystals and, as I sit here (with the sun up now behind the blinds, the day advancing), I hope she somehow passed that observation on to Lorraine, though I doubt she would have recalled that shared moment that made such an impression on me.

Then one day my sister informed me that she’d learned from Lorraine that she was mortally ill, probably with cancer. She would have been in her sixties, not that terribly old, probably married with children, even grandchildren. News of her death followed soon thereafter. The girl who’d seen the crystals was gone.

Five Septembers ago, my sister also fell mortally ill (with cancer) and left us. Therefore any further details about how she came to be in contact with Lorraine Peters is gone. So much left the world with my sister.

But that crystalline childhood moment remains, fleeting as that vanished snowbank, imbedded in memory. A young girl’s sensitive awareness, leading to an instant of shared perception. A civilizing bond in the early hours of two lives.

God rest you, Lorraine. Thank you for the crystals. Though I am in Florida, I will always long to see the winter’s first snow. I must see it again, with all its hazards. I must not forget you, my little neighbor, as, at this hour, in the year 2021, rain and wind assault the bare corner of Selena and Pope’s Hill Street, and washes the odd candy wrapper down the gutters in the gray light.

By the way, it’s not trash day. That’s tomorrow.

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