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Astoria Characters: The Lace-Curtain Ladies

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Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Great Snow Show.

I'm standing in the access road behind my house, three shovels in tow, surrounded by a knee-high sea of snow. My rapt "audience" -- the Lace-Curtain Ladies -- is peeking at me from behind draped windows.

They are eagerly waiting to watch what this season has become the weekly back-breaking feat of a 93-pound weakling -- me -- who shovels an astounding 1,200 square feet of snow in one go.

I've done this act every winter since I moved in six years ago, and I'm their only source of amusement.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
My snow props are waiting to get into the act.

It always starts like this: I knock on doors and ask them to please, please, please shovel the snow in their portions of the access road so I can get my car out. Every winter, the Lace-Curtain Ladies tell me to shovel off.

"We don't need to get out," they crow.

Their younger family members, each strong enough to shoulder a shovel, stand steadfast behind them.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
My Timberlands become my tap shoes.

I live in the middle of the block, so when the winter socks the time clock with its icy fist, I'm in the deep freeze until the roses bloom in June. I'd love to do the neighborly thing and hire someone to shovel the entire road; I'm willing, but my wallet is weak.

I keep hearing snow stories about people in other New York City neighborhoods who work together to give Mother Nature a slippery run for her life. On my little patch of snow-white heaven, I'm ashamed to tell you that the first fall of flakes brings out the sidewalk snow fights.

It is against these winter tales that I present my side show, the Lace-Curtain Ladies vs. the new kid on the block.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
On my block, hearts don't melt but icicles do.

The Lace-Curtain Ladies -- ah, how I admire them! -- have snowed me like Tom Sawyer and his whitewashed fence. Every winter, I spend scores of hours and/or hundreds of dollars getting the space shoveled to their specifications.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Where to put the snow? I covered my fig tree with it.

As soon as my shovel hits the snow, the window tapping and the screeching of this kooky chorus begin. "Stop throwing snow on my side!" "You're putting snow on my property!" "STOP! You are crazy woman!" "Why you do this?"

I ignore them, and like cuckoo clock birds, they pull their heads back into their windows, lying in wait for me to make another false move.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Even the shovels get buried.

Last year, I learned the hard way how to make them go away. I hurt my back when I tried to dig my car out of the only spot I didn't shovel on their domain. They heard my cries for help but didn't come to my aid. The $500 physical therapy bill was added to my tab.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
I make my grand entrance on the shoveled steps.

So this year I don't come to the task lightly. Instead, I try to make light work of it by turning it into a floor show.

Scoop, bend and fling. Scoop, bend and fling. Scoop, bend and fling. To the flutter of the lace curtains, I shovel my way from my drive toward the corner, where the neighborly neighbor always clears a path for the cars to come through.

When I finally scrape across the finish line without injury, I triumphantly thrust my silver shovel into the sky-high pile of snow like a spear.

I walk to the middle of my stage and do a little soft-shoe in the snow.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The finale: The road mostly shoveled.

I bow.

There is no applause.

And no one throws a single grain of salt my way.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com.
Copyright 2011 by Nancy A. Ruhling