After My Storm, by Andrew Mungo

After Hurricane Carol in 1956 we all lost power for a couple of days. There were cars overturned, trees down and stuff all over the road. The only place open was Luke’s Variety, our corner grocer. Luke’s was maybe twice the size of the Screening Room lobby, tiny even by today’s convenience store size yet he was there for the neighborhood.

Everybody liked Luke. He was a Lithuanian immigrant who used to tell the kids that he had never seen a banana until he came to this country. Luke thought bananas were the exotic fruit of the New World. They were, in fact. He insisted he only sold “good” hamburger.

It’s amazing how fast news traveled back then even without electricity much less the net. It seemed almost immediately the word spread: Luke was giving away his ice cream before it could melt. Seemingly at once every kid in the hood was outside Luke’s. We were doing our part after the storm: we were gobbling down the ice cream. “It’s an emergency, eat it NOW!”

The hood was a string of “three deckers,” with the owners on the first floor, your uncle upstairs and maybe your newly-wed older cousin over that. My father was the home owner so had to deal with the hurricane’s aftermath.

I remember stuffing myself with Luke’s free ice cream as my father and I watched two other neighborhood guys argue over a TV antenna in the road. They were both laying claim to this massive contraption that was wider than a car and taller than my 6-year-old frame. Without this device you would miss the antics of Milton Berle, not know what Liberace was wearing that night, what antics Lucille Ball was up to. So these two guys were approaching blows over the thing.

My father reasoned that all they had to do was wait for the power to come back on and then turn on the TV. Maybe they could agree to help each other put the thing back on whoever’s roof. Just get it off the road for now.

It occurred to me it could even be ours. I never learned the end of that story but when the lights did come back Milton Berle was on, wearing a dress with a giant cigar in his mouth. My parents were laughing hysterically at the madcap essence of this guy. I never got Milton Berle, never knew why anybody would watch him but I was glad to see Howdy Doody the next morning when school was still out.