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COPP’S HILL MOMENT: Space Savers

(A weekly succession of blizzards has tested the patience and kindness of North End residents.)

So the groundhog and his shadow have come and gone on Copp’s Hill while the rest of us finally venture out into storm-battered streets to replenish our larders, grab a cappuccino, buy a scratch ticket, look for a Globe, kibitz and commiserate. It’s a frigid, winter-white world out there against the occasional blue hue of a mid-February sky. And, there have been weekly tests of survival when we have turned our attention from silly reality shows on the flat screen to the hard-cold immediacy of a several hundred-pound icicle hanging menacingly off the roof and window ledge of a building across the way.

I hesitate to poke a scorpion’s hole by bringing up a sore subject, but we need to talk. This will undoubtedly provoke thumbs down — maybe even a death threat or two– at the conclusion of these musings. So be it. Let’s try to speak civilly about the virulent eruption of a seasonal phenomenon that those of us who were born in the North End or have lived here for years never before witnessed. I am referring, of course, to SPACE SAVERS.

Let’s begin with a parking experience recalled by my sister Mary Elizabeth who years ago moved from Florida to Boston when she landed a position at Franciscan Children’s Hospital. Wanting a short commute, she sublet a Brighton apartment near Oak Square on a street lined with double and triple-deckers. At the height of the snowy season, while re-acclimating to New England winters, she remarked with wonderment that she lived in a very friendly place because, on sunny days, the neighborhood ladies would gather outdoors to press their linens and fold laundry. The odd thing was that she had never actually observed the women engaged in this activity. But, she had driven past their ironing boards and aluminum chairs wedged between tall snow banks. Sighing, I felt like the Grinch by having to disclose to her that those signs of domesticity were actually territorial markers for residents’ vehicles.

Then there is the example of my friend Lil from Charlestown. She would kill me if I revealed her last name. Yet, she has no qualms about staking out a parking space and even looks forward to severe winter weather to empty her cellar of hazardous waste and household items that are prohibited on city trash collection days. (I am not joking.) After a warming trend sets in and a respectable snowmelt begins to nibble away at the mounds of ice, the mayor’s office issues directives for DPW crews to swoop into Charlestown for removal of all space savers. Of course, the Townies are tipped off in advance, and, out come old TV sets, 5-gallon paint cans, construction material, porcelain sinks and toilet bowls that are dutifully scooped up and hauled away in city trucks. “What saps!” Lil remarks sardonically. “It sure beats 1-800-GOT-JUNK.”

Now stuff like that never happens in the North End. Or does it? Some locals complain that by dint of their foresight and labor they are entitled to private spaces on public ways while the rest of their neighbors shell out fees to park during a snow emergency or, for that matter, year round. They expect to see that barstool lovingly situated and awaiting their return after a day’s absence. Still others whine about the calories they burned in excavating a car from a snow bank, but think nothing of hopping into their Jeep to work up a sweat at the health club followed by a sauna and hot soak. Meanwhile the rest of us who are forced to shelter in place are expected to honor dubious territorial claims on 150 square-feet of vacant pavement while the plumber, visiting nurse, electrician, meals-on-wheels driver, roofer, furnace repairer, child of a frail elder … (Fill in the blank) slip-slide their way through clogged, narrow streets without even a square millimeter for double parking.

Some of us own cars. Some of us do not. But, we must all depend upon the constant coming and going of goods and services and, yes, family and dear friends who look in on us. You can wallow in a frigid rage of entitlement when your beach chair is not nestled in the now-occupied spot you evacuated hours earlier. Or, you may simply whimper when there is not a designer wastebasket waiting to give you a hero’s welcome upon your return to the ‘hood in an Escalade. As for me, blinded by the blizzards, I turn for consolation to a passage from a book of poetry whose author knows a thing or two about fire and ice, and, most of all, snowflakes – the latter literally coating his surname in winter: Robert Frost. Speaking of Christopher Columbus in a piece entitled ‘America is Hard to See’, he observes:

“But all he did was spread the room
of our enacting out the doom
of being in each others way
and so put off the weary day
when we would have to put our mind
on how to crowd and still be kind.”

Dear neighbors, now is the time to be kind to one another.

(From Boston’s North End, Thomas F. Schiavoni writes about neighborhood life and city living.)

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