Snowball Fights Make Good Friends

snowballs

“Wop! Wop! Wop!”

One, then another, and yet another, ‘wop , wop, wop’, from different fronts, rock-hard snowballs, spheres of packed snow that when thrown expertly, leave red blotches on the skin or wet splatter marks on clothing. Mostly, they leave bruised egos! In the shoulder, the backside, the legs and the head, if you’re not watching.

“Run! Run for your life!”

War whoops from the neighborhood bullies who gathered to harass my friends and me on a cold, snowy nor’easter day, the kind of days school kids loved. School was closed, traffic slowed and monster trucks rumbled thru neighborhoods, pushing snow into huge piles for more outdoor games, a perfect atmosphere for snowball fights. These ruffians had lots of opportunities for ‘assaults’ on us during the long, cold New England winters.

Slam!

The kitchen door closed behind me.

“Just in time for dinner”!

“Why are you so wet?”  

“Why are you panting?”

My mother didn’t get it, had no idea of the peril I faced in the dilapidated barn behind my house where the ‘bad guys’ had us trapped, on the second floor, the ‘good guys’, trapped and running out of ‘ammo’. Snow fell through the leaky roof of the old building, but nary enough to ward off the lot of ogres, older by two or three years, ungloved and open jackets, impervious to the elements. Tough guys, the toughest, and outside the barn, with an endless supply of ammo, falling snow.

I had been called once for dinner…

“Steeeeeeeeephen!”

“Suuuuuupper!”

She didn’t, and wouldn’t, call more than once.

… but the bullies wouldn’t allow our plea for a truce, a ‘temporary suspension of hostilities’. Only a ‘brave’ jump from the hayloft door into a pile of snow and mad dash to my house saved me from…well, you can just imagine!

Yes, ‘imagine’, and I do. Such a beautiful word. I find that, as I get older, a little bit at a time, ‘imagining’ becomes a key part of what I remember and makes my childhood experiences even more vivid than they probably were.

Oh, the barn was there, leaning, and snowball fights were common. And there were older kids, lots of them in a working class neighborhood of large families, but they weren’t really bullies, ruffians, or ogres. Often, we were on the same side in other activities played outside on the streets, surrounded by fresh air.

However, winter was the season of the toughest games. ‘King of the hill’ saw friends tossed about while vieing for the top spot of a snow mound. Sledding was fast and furious, weaving around cars, trees or each other. Just knocking someone into a snow bank was a game. All of it, the rough and tumble, pushing and shoving, bonded our friendships more.

We wore ourselves out…outside, where we created games all day and came home to the loud yell of, ‘suuuuupper!’

I can still pack a good snowball and hit a target…and imagine…and remember.

Yes, snowball fights made good friends!

Steve

January 2019

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To all kids who played in the streets, created fun games with friends and still remember it all.

Where Is Spring?

Where Is Spring

An indomitable groundhog scurries across my lawn, signaling the start of Spring. A hairy woodpecker drills at sunrise from the dead branches of a tall locust tree and garners my attention, signaling the start of Spring. Pyramidal piles of pea like deer droppings accumulate by my patio, signaling the start of Spring.

But, ‘where is Spring’?

The calendar confirmed it days ago. The incessant honking of returning geese announced it from the heavens, and well tanned ‘snowbirds’, returning home from sea, sand and sun, expressed their disappointment and dismay at finding lingering snow showers. Even weather reporters  proclaimed it, albeit reluctantly.

But, ‘where is Spring’? 

Baseball players pass hours oiling their gloves and tarring their bats, hoping against hope that fields will be green and  plush for Opening Day.  Pot holes turn roads into obstacle courses, challenging drivers at every turn. Even the earliest flower, the crocus, is nowhere to be seen.  The supply of hand warmers is depleted. The flannel sheets are worn thin. The damp air, low clouds, and dire forecast surely is winter’s last ditch effort to overstay its worn out welcome.

But, ‘where is Spring’?

Mother Nature was kind to western New Yorkers this winter, giving us hope that Spring would be early. However, the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ seems to be out, dashing our spirit.  Easter Sunday is but days away. Newspapers are announcing the opening dates of local golf courses. School kids are starting their ‘Spring Break’.  And while my weather app just flashed this warning, ‘ snow flurries starting soon’, I am compelled to ask…

‘Where the Hell is Spring?’

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Today, I Built a Snow Fort

Winter Street

Living in western New York requires a hearty soul when it comes to weathering the weather. Every winter, Mother Nature throws her best punch at us. After lying mostly dormant this winter, she reminded us of her mood swings with a pummeling of snow that stopped drivers, closed roads and shut down businesses.  And some of us thought Spring was on the way.  Ha!

How do people along the Niagara Frontier handle Mother Nature with her long, dark winter nights, and mornings crisp enough to snap the nose off your face if you wiggled it?  Only one way, we take what She’s blown at us and make it our playground.

We tug on long johns, wrap ourselves in downy coats, then race out-of-door to play, just as we did when some of us still could race.

Against cheek numbing winds, we schuss down snow-packed mountains on narrow flat boards. We clamp on snowshoes and break new trails in deep silent stands of nearby woods.

Snowshoes

Dull skates and old sleds are rescued from dusty web covered garage lofts or backyard sheds. Blades and runners are honed and waxed to make perfect for gliding over new ice or flying down slick hills on our bellies.

The brilliant sunshine on a wintry day makes a frigid five degrees feel like a tepid ten. We are survivors!

Me, I call on a time when kids were always outside, playing games that strengthened our bodies and stretched our imaginations. Today, I built a fort in my backyard blanket of cold, cotton-like snow, a dugout snow fort.

My fort today was not unlike one I built back then, simple but strong. A mini fortress, big enough for a cadre of ruffians and a cache of snowballs, just in case real ruffians showed up, as they often did. And amid the screams and yells, and maybe a curse, was the splatting thud of snowballs finding arms and legs and an occasional noggin’.

Those snow castles gave us a place to escape, a place so cold that only the energy of our youthful exhuberance kept us warm, as a pint size ‘band of brothers’ huddled together, making plans for our next adventure.

And what better place to have that adventure than on a corner snow ‘mountain’, the high, hard packed hill of shoveled or plowed snow, perfect for a game of ‘King of the Hill’.

Winter is a great time to test our endurance, to demonstrate our vim, vigor and vitality. Come Spring, we will scratch a notch in our snowpant suspenders as a symbol of success against the elements. We shall prevail!

Today, I built a snow fort. And tonight, under the cold, star lit sky, I’ll climb a corner snow ‘mountain’ and declare myself, King of the Hill!

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Dedicated to the kid in every adult, builders of snow forts, and those who challenge themselves in the great outdoors.

Winter, In Name Only…

“Thy tooth is not so keen, Because thou art not seen”
(Shakespeare, As You Like It)

snow 4
february 3, 2015

“Where is Winter?”  The calendar tells me we are in its grip, but the thermometer says, not so. 2015 brought thigh high snows, yet 2016 has seen nary a flake. “Where is Winter?”

No Snow
february 3, 2016

Our daffodils, normally unseen until April, are breaking ground, and like a periscope, daring to peek at a most unusual sight…grass, in February.  “Where is Winter?”

I almost expect to see worms wiggling out of my way as I leave prints in the soft underfooting of my yard, a ground seemingly unfrozen. But they know better, this is just a tease before arctic air dares to return for an end of season blast, the way firework finales finish a show.  And my orange snowblower looks content to be idle, gathering dust instead of devouring snow. “Where is Winter?”

Today, I saw a flock of Canada geese heading north. Were they locals who call this home, or the real birds that migrate when weather signals them to go?  Oh, let it be the latter. I do admire watching their hard work, these harbingers of the changing seasons. I called to them, “Where is Winter, eh?”, but they were far gone.

I am not a ‘winter person’. Neither the snow nor the cold make my life comfortable. I grumble about it. And just when I’m ready to say, ‘enough with this nonsense, Mother Nature senses my frustration and begins the change to the most beautiful stretch of weather from April thru November. It’s the reward for my patience with her.

But for now, the strange calmness that has enveloped us along the Niagara frontier reminds me of the sailors on the listing Pequod, waiting and waiting for the wind. In our case, the winter wind. I do not miss the winter, wherever it is.

I believe I am not alone…am I?

Buckland in Winter
Buckland Farm in Brighton, NY

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to my Rochester Instagram followers, whether you are winter fans, or not

“Today, I Shoveled Snow…”

“Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, Arrives the snow…” RW Emerson

Winter Street

Today, I shoveled snow. Yesterday, I shoveled snow. And the day before that, I shoveled snow. It’s winter in western New York and we live with a steady diet of snow

Along the winter shores of Lake Ontario, steady snowfalls are the norm and removing it is more than a daily ritual. It’s a right of passage for youngsters and an absolute necessity for adults who get up, get out and get to work. Commerce doesn’t stop for weather, here.

Growing up in central Massachusetts, where measureable snowfalls also were a common occurrence, kids there learned to shovel at an early age, too. It was not an option in a blue collar neighborhood where dads had to be at work early and on-time.

All able bodied males in the house, young or old, manned shovels, clearing driveways and walks to help get workers on their way. Plow service and snow blowers were an unaffordable luxury for most families.

All that was heard on eerily quiet, ‘three decker’ lined streets the morning after a nor’easter, was the scraping of metal shovels over frozen pavement, and dry, fluffy snow squeaking underfoot with each twist of our black buckled boots. The task of finishing a job fell to the young school boys with nothing but time on their hands. Time and energy.

Snow shoveling is a low skill task, even the tools are simple and aptly named, ‘shovels’.  Bend, scoop, lift, toss, use your legs not your back. But those weren’t instructions my dad gave. He was more direct, knowing that I could figure out the mechanics, myself.

“I expect this driveway and sidewalk shoveled by the time I come home from work”, he announced, without mentioning my name or even looking at me. It was understood whom he was addressing, the skinny kid and the only one left home after he and big brothers went to work.

My dad’s directives were always clear and concise. The fewer the words, the stronger the message. Besides, mother always made sure the work got done, as prescribed.

And when the jobs were done, the neighborhood became a bevy of street hustlers, as I and other like-minded junior entrepreneurs with shovels slung over our shoulders, eagerly slipped and slid through heavy snowdrifts, knocking on doors with wet mittens, competing for whatever snow removal opportunities were left at neighboring houses.

We had no business plan or even understood the value of our labor. Regardless, we would shovel walks clean to the pavement, keeping tempo to imaginary cash registers ringing in our collective minds, totally dependent on the client’s generosity. Sometimes it was good and other times, not so good. But the greater lesson of work and reward was invaluable.

Now, I still find myself taking on the task of snow removal. It rekindles frigid memories of finger and face freezing days under the watchful eyes of my father and the lessons he ‘taught’ me.

One thing is certain…I can’t wait for the return of summer in western New York!

Snow 2

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Winter