Daily Prompt: Buffalo Nickel – Dig through your couch cushions, your purse, or the floor of your car and look at the year printed on the first coin you find. What were you doing that year?
As I took up the challenge, I hoped I would uncover a coin of some rare vintage, a coin that would evoke another era in my life, in the life of the world. My desk yielded nothing useful. I used to keep one there — a dime I think — for scratching lottery tickets, but it had vanished to wherever coins go … maybe another dimension. I opened a purse, but it too was free of coins. Finally, at the bottom of my camera bag, a quarter emerged. Would its failure to display a buffalo disqualify it? I hoped not.
It took 10 minutes to read the date. My eyes can’t see tiny numbers. The shiny quarter celebrates a glacier. It says glacier on it, so I know that much. Which glacier? I felt lucky to decipher the date. More would be pushing my luck. I wondered where my magnifying glass had gone. It used to be on top of the desk and it got a lot of use.
I grew up in Queens, one of the five boroughs of New York city. One of the few major east-west arteries in that borough is Hillside Avenue. It has always been a busy road. Cars, trucks, buses, bicycles. I crossed it twice daily, on my way to school and back. One day, I was hit by a small truck the corner of Hillside and 191st Street. I was 15. We didn’t have cell phones, so I had to beg the grumpy shopkeeper who owned the tiny candy store on the corner to let me call home. The driver had stayed long enough to see me get up front the ground. I wasn’t dead, so he took off. Hit and run.
When my father got there, he wanted to know if I’d gotten the license number. I said no, I was lying on the ground, not a good angle. Dad was pissed off I didn’t get the number because, he said, I could have gone to college on the proceeds of a lawsuit. He never asked me how I felt or if I wanted to see a doctor. My mother — who never went to doctor for any reason at all — figured I hadn’t broken anything. Good enough, so I limped off to take a bath. Nothing like the warm nurturing of home.
That was in 1962. I was in High School.
Hillside Avenue is where the forward movement of the glacier which covered the region during the last ice age stopped. Was it the red light? Hillside Avenue, with its shops, bus stops, and endless traffic was a significant geological and archaeological marker.
Whenever something is being built along the road, archaeologists and other scientific hunters explore it first. They have found all kinds of artifacts. Mammoth bone and the skeletons of other extinct animals. Evidence of early native settlements. Just a quarter-mile from where I grew up.
My Personal Year
I wasn’t doing much. I’d had cancer the previous year. 2011 was a recovery year. I was in a slough of despond and it took all my efforts to climb out of that pit. I had to come to grips with a significantly changed body.
I took a lot of photographs that year. Read a lot of books. Which pretty much sums up 2011. I only remember the pictures because it was a colorful autumn and I have pictures, some of my finest local foliage shots. If I were going to give the year a title, I’d have to call it “the year I didn’t die.” It turned out to be only one of several, but who knew what was waiting in the wings?
More Stuff About the Glacier: Glacial Moraine in Jamaica, Queens
Long Island and Staten Island are products of the last Ice Age when a continental glacier moved south bringing massive amounts of debris from New England. When the ice melted — at Hillside Avenue — the debris was left in huge piles.
The hilly southern edge of the pile we call the terminal glacial moraine. Further south (below Hillside Avenue) the land becomes completely flat derived from smaller particles washed of the moraine. The plain was frequently flooded. Between these features, at the foot of the glacier, land is mostly flat but water is still channeled.
Streets like Hillside Avenue and Jamaica Avenue in Queens, and Hyland Blvd. in Staten Island became natural transportation corridors because the lay of the land made it natural.
My elementary school was on Jamaica Avenue. Mammoth bones anyone?