The mounds of snow this year, for some reason, have me thinking of snowballs and snowmen. Maybe it's because my recent back surgery won't allow me to bend over - the hardest doctor's order to follow. And one needs to bend to pick up packable snow for a really well-crafted snowball. I never thought I would suffer from snowball envy, but we always want what we can't have.
Frankly, I don't actually throw a snowball very often any more . . . occasionally a playful handful scooped-up, packed with two or three pats, and tossed at Richard or a visiting grandchild. It's a fun, silly thing to do, guaranteeing laughter. I do remember though, back to a time when I was first aware that a good snowball could be a weapon. And I'll never forget what happened in fact, I think of it every time I snatch up a handful of the white stuff with a little mischief in mind.
I was in the fourth grade. In the winter we couldn't wait to blast out of school, race home and head into the yard for snow play. That year, Nancy, a classmate of mine came to play in my yard a few days a week so I wasn't stuck with just the neighborhood boys for after school fun. Nancy and I built a formidable snow fort behind the low hedge in the front yard. It was a fun place to snuggle out of the wind and we kept smoothing and fortifying its sides with each new snow. We dug out peep holes so we could see the sidewalk traffic on the other side of the hedge but we could not be seen by the oncoming, unsuspecting pedestrians.
We replenished our two large stacks of perfect snowballs every afternoon. We threw them at trees and streetlamps for practice and tossed them into the street for fun, occasionally lobbing them at the sides of cars. We knew better than target a windshield. We did not, however, know better when it came to choosing our sidewalk victims. And that's the reason I have never forgotten my relationship with the perfect snowball.
I lived only a block from the high school. Although the high school students were released at 2:10 and we didn't get out of school until 3:00, we were home and in our fort before the teenagers got out of their late afterschool activities. The victims we targeted must have been on the girls' basketball team. This one particularly tough girl made a nasty comment about us "little brats" as she passed by on the sidewalk one afternoon. I hated her instantly. Despite her varsity letter jacket, which even in the fourth grade we knew was a big deal, she was loud, she said damn and hell a lot, and she smoked. She was obviously a bad person and we were assuredly the well-equipped duo to bring her down a peg or two. What were we thinking?
On the first attempt at moral justice, the timing of my throw was off and I didn't release the snowball until she was past us. And it missed. She turned and gave us a dirty look. Still a bit nervous the next day when I stood up in the fort to fire my missile, I had the same late timing but it did hit her, THUNK, in the middle of her back. Ya Ha! She turned, sneered and yelled, "you nasty little creep!" I was thrilled. She was mad. Good. That was the goal. But nobody had ever told me to be careful what you wish for.
The following week I said to Nancy maybe SHE has forgotten about us. Then, through the peep hole, I saw my nemesis and her buddies coming from the corner down the street. There were four or five of them, all in their varsity jackets, laughing rowdily, walking slowly towards our battle station. I had plenty of time to select the best snowballs, one for each hand, and get ready. No late throws this time.
My heart was pounding inside my snowsuit. I waited until her gang was just approaching our fort. SHE was still in front when I bolted upright and fired the snowball in my right hand at her head. I never got to throw the second one. I hit her - POW! - on the cheek, nose and eyes, splattering snow all over her face and hair. She whipped one hand up to clear her face as she let out a terrifying shriek, throwing her books to the sidewalk. She leapt over the hedge screaming obscenities. I had been so thrilled with my direct hit that it took me a few seconds to realize that the enemy was attacking and I was standing still.
I turned to run, but in the deep snow, my lumpy snowsuit and boots were not exactly racing gear. The snow that was up to my 9-year old knees was only partially up her 16-year old shins. Nancy, cowering, watched helplessly.
I barely made it to the backyard before the furious bruiser was on me, screaming, punching, jamming my face into the snow and forcibly thrashing it back and forth until I was gasping. "If you ever do that again it will be the last snowball you ever throw, you little - - - - ." She pounded on me for what seemed an eternity and buried me under as much snow as she could quickly heap on top of me. Then it got quiet.
Dumbfounded, I lay there for a few minutes, finally hearing Nancy call my name as she began to dig me out. I do remember bawling over my bad fortune, but the greatest injury was my bruised pride. Dragging myself back to the snow fort, I spotted a few flyaway papers, probably from the explosion of books she had thrown. There was a hall pass and a history exam with a big red C-minus near her name. Her name was Dotty, the last name now forgotten. I was secretly thrilled that although she may have been tougher than me, I had never received a C grade. I was privately grasping for any tiny victory I could salvage.
A week later the boys had taken over the snow fort and the swelling on my right cheek was gone. For two or three years afterwards I checked every group of big kids I saw anywhere in town, terrified of running into her again.
The trouncing she delivered that day served a lot of purposes as I grew into adulthood: I learned that timing really is everything in life. I learned to only take on an adversary I have a chance against. And, when you're in trouble always have a huge guy named Vinny on your team instead of a 63-pound flea-weight named Nancy. Oh, and no problem in life has ever been solved with a well-aimed snowball.