Memories of a New York City Childhood

(Note: All the photos in this post were taken from the website of the Central Park Conservancy, an organization that partners the City and the public to restore and manage this extraordinary urban place that enriches our lives immeasurably. I apologize to the Conservancy for using the photos without their permission but hope that if you love Central Park as I do, you will make a donation to help support their work.)

As I sit down to write, a week before Christmas 2013, snow is falling. I’ve just returned from a walk in Central Park, where everything is covered in a sprinkling of white. I’m thinking to myself, “There is a whole city of kids out there, hoping to wake up tomorrow to the news that, due to the snowfall, school is closed.”

 

“Snow days” are a special memory of my childhood in New York City. As soon as we kids heard the news, we rushed through breakfast, dug our sleds out of the basement of our apartment building, and practically dragged our mothers out to Central Park. Our destination was East 72nd Street, where a long hill slopes gently downward, ending at the sailboat pond.

At the other end of the pond is the lovely Alice in Wonderland statue and to the side a statue of Hans Christian Andersen. In the spring, summer and fall, we climbed on Alice, the Mad Hatter, and the Rabbit, and cooled off under the giant bronze mushrooms. On Saturdays we sat at Andersen’s feet and listened to stories read aloud, while model sailboats skimmed the surface of the pond. EB White immortalized the Conservatory Water, the Boathouse, and the sailboat races in his wonderful book, Stuart Little.

But in winter, the hill was for sledding. The challenge was to fly down the hill fast enough for a long ride, but not so fast that you ended up in the semi-frozen pond. Nowadays the Park staff put bales of hay at the foot of major sledding hills for safety, but I think in those years we just had fun and enjoyed the sense of danger, even if our parents did not!

My younger brother either sat behind me, or lay down over me, and I steered. One year we zoomed down the hill, hit “something,” and the sled flipped over and threw us into the deep snow, just as a photographer from the New York Times snapped our picture. (I’ve got that newspaper clipping … somewhere.)

I like to tell people that Central Park was my childhood “backyard.” In summer we rode our bikes and dug for gold — the mica in the rocks near the Balto statue around 65th Street. We watched the seals swim in the circular pool in the Zoo. We rode the Carousel and in the winter we skated at the Wollman Rink with our classmates and teacher. We fell off the jungle gyms and skinned our noses, elbows and knees.

The jungle gyms have been replaced with “safe” climbing equipment and padded floors, but everything else is still there. I feel so fortunate to have grown up as “a City kid.”

Welcome to my backyard!

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