If you got to it early enough, you discovered that recent 2-foot snowfall was actually kind of light and fluffy. Not that it wasn’t a royal pain to deal with, but it could have been much worse. It could have been what I call a kids’ snowfall.
A kids’ snowfall is wet and heavy. Perfect for snowballs and snowmen. And as I recall vividly, an igloo in the back yard of my pal Jimmy Cummings. The snowfall a week-and-a-half ago was nothing like that.
We were about 10 years old, Jimmy and I, and the year was 1959 when we built our igloo. Jimmy, who now lives in Allentown, called my attention to that memory when he sought me out at the Greater Pittston Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Banquet last Friday. He even brought documentation: a column I wrote about it 15 years ago.
He also brought along a copy of his big brother Mike’s obituary. Mike Cummings died Feb. 2 at his home in Tennessee. He was 73. Mike played a key role in the igloo story.
Now that I think about it, our igloo was more of a snow cave. We carved it out of a big pile of snow in Jimmy’s yard. Much like Michelangelo was said to look at a block of marble and see the Pieta waiting to be released, we saw that pile of snow and knew there was an igloo in there somewhere.
Jimmy’s back yard ran from his house on William Street all the way to Butler Street where I lived. I don’t think I ever saw the front of Jimmy’s house and I know I never set foot inside of it. I’d just walk up the street and go through the back gate and hang out.
Jimmy’s dad was a state trooper and that made him mysterious. He was the only of my friends’ dads who wore a uniform and he always seemed to come home long after dark. We’d be in the igloo working when we’d hear the snow crunching under Mr. Cummings’ feet as he walked by. I’d picture him wearing shiny black boots, a holstered pistol at his side. I don’t know for sure because I didn’t dare stick my head out to look.
I wrote in that old column that I recalled digging our igloo, or cave, with only our hands. We all wore cloth mittens in those days and I still remember how they’d be frozen almost solid and caked with snow. Our jeans, which we called “overalls” and our moms called dungarees, weren’t in much better shape. Only our feet were dry, thanks to our “four buckle arctics,” which were the height of winter fashion for young boys back then. Mine may have once been my dad’s.
I remember this little black shovel showing up but I can’t recall if it was Jimmy’s or mine. I used it to sculpt the inside walls of the igloo, taking care not to shave too much away and therefore weaken the ceiling. We had the makings of future engineers.
We worked a couple of days on that igloo but we never did get to play in it. No, it wasn’t the sun that did us in. It was Jimmy’s brother Mike.
About six years older than we, Mike was a teenager and still growing. He’d eventually top out at about 6-foot-7 or more and close to 300 pounds, but even as a teen he was plenty big.
Mike would become a Pittston policeman and fireman, and volunteer with the ambulance association. He’d later move to Cleveland, Ohio, where he distinguished himself as a homicide detective and eventually was called upon to provide police security to visiting dignitaries. He was known as “Big Mike” throughout the city of Cleveland.
I think Jimmy and I got to see the future cop in Mike when he decided our igloo was a tragedy waiting to happen and therefore had to go. I believe I heard him mumbling things like “for your own good” and “if I don’t do this, dad will” as his gigantic feet came crashing down over and over turning our hard work into a pile of slush. He sure meant business.
I honestly cannot remember getting mad or upset or even sad, however, as we stood there watching Mike go to town. I believe it’s because the joy of the igloo was in building it. The prospect of just sitting inside looking at each other had little allure.
Of course, we didn’t tell Mike that. It would have ruined his fun.
Learning of Big Mike’s distinguished career in police work — he had moved to Tennessee to continue his involvement with the Fraternal Order of Police — leaves me with a sense that if he indeed got his start smashing that igloo “for our own good” it was well worth it. Even if he didn’t exactly save us that day, it seems he saved a lot of others during his lifetime of service. God bless him.
Jimmy tells me there will be a memorial Mass for Mike on July 17 at St. John the Evangelist Church in Pittston. I’m marking my calendar right now.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.