Snowball etiquette

Rick Ryckeley's picture

The snowball was the size of a grapefruit, or at least it felt that big when it slammed into the back of my head. With the force of a sledgehammer, it almost bowled me over. Snow then slipped down the inside of my shirt. The wetness brought with it the frigid hand of Old Man Winter.

I didn’t have to turn around to know who had hurled it my way. But turn around I still did.

The second snowball hit harder than the first. It brought me to my knees. Under a snow-covered cheek, my skin stung like a thousand bee stings, then suddenly went numb. This was war. And I was losing – losing badly.

Laughter floated over the six inches of fresh powder that had fallen during the night. The Boy was laughing.

It would go down in history as the great snowball fight of 2010, and believe me, the old guy was gonna win. Strange, as he continued to laugh and bombard me with snowballs he had stowed secretly away all over the yard, it made me remember another great snowball fight from many years ago — and a similar laugh.

The two streets ran parallel to one another. The everyday kids lived on Flamingo Street – my street. And all the rich kids resided on the Duke of Gloucester or “The Duke” as we Flamingo Street folks called it.

The snow started to fall shortly before school let out that Friday, and the weatherman predicted six inches. He was wrong. By 7 Saturday morning, over a foot had fallen and preparations started for the greatest snowball fight in history.

Bubba Hanks, the biggest kid on the Flamingo team, built the first of three snow walls constructed at key houses along the street. The “great wall” was located in the back yard of Goofy Steve’s. Goof’s house shared a common border with an empty lot over on The Duke and was the most logical place for the rich kids to cross into our territory.

The second wall my three brothers and I built in the front yard of Candi’s house. Candi had been my girlfriend since the start of the school year, but she was unaware of this. She was the most popular girl in all of Mrs. Crabtree’s third-grade class and was always extremely busy.

I promised myself, if I survived the coming battle, I would profess my love for her. For now though, a mighty wall in the front yard to protect her from the coming horde would have to suffice.

The third and final wall was constructed at 110 Flamingo Street – on our front lawn. Its construction was overseen by none other than my next-door neighbor, Thomas Humber.

By age 11, Thomas was a veteran of many Flamingo Street skirmishes: The Great Dirt Clod War, the summer’s-end street football championships, and the now infamous Colossal Water Balloon Fight, a fight that resulted in three of our team members being escorted by the police back to our parents and landing me in the hospital. But that’s another story for another time.

The rest of our team members, eight in all, quickly made snowballs. Arsenals of 100 snowballs were stored behind each fortification. By 10 o’clock, all that was left to do was to wait behind the great wall and review snowball etiquette.

First: all balls were made out of snow. No slush balls were permitted. Upon contact, snowballs explode and slide off. Slush balls stuck, stung, and caused welts within moments.

Second: one throw, one snowball. No multiple snowball-throwing devices were allowed. This included, but was not limited to, snowball slingshots and snowball cannons.

Of course, there was no such thing as a snowball cannon, but with their unlimited funds, you couldn’t be sure what those kids from The Duke would come up with next.

The third and perhaps the most important rule: nothing could be hidden inside a snowball. No rock, no sticks, and no glass — nothing but snow. After all, this was war. We really didn’t want to hurt anyone.

As if on cue, shortly before 11, the small pine trees behind Goof’s house parted. The first wave of kids from The Duke emerged led by none other than Preston Weston, the richest of the rich kids. Each carried backpacks of snowballs.

The battle was fierce; soon it was obvious to the few spectators who had gathered that team Flamingo was not only outnumbered but outgunned as well. In other words, we were in for a trouncing. We quickly fell back to the fortification at Candi’s house and just as quickly to 110 Flamingo Street. Then it happened.

Out of nowhere, we heard laughter, and Bradley McAllister, a.k.a. Down the Street Bully Brad, suddenly appeared. He was not alone. Flanking him was the rest of his gang.

They attacked not only Flamingo Street kids, but kids from The Duke as well. Welts quickly formed wherever their snowballs struck, and it was quickly apparent they had broken rule number one. They were hurling slush balls.

Snowball sling shots hurled multiple slush balls at one time. This, of course, broke the second rule of snowball etiquette.

Finally, as evidenced by the cut above Goof’s right eye, Bully Brad had also broken the third cardinal rule. Some of the slush balls contained rocks hidden inside. All was not lost, though.

They say war makes for strange bedfellows. Now, facing a common enemy, the kids from The Duke and Flamingo Street united. The tide of the war quickly turned, sending Bully Brad and his gang running for the hills.

Well, at least over to Scenic Terrace, where they all lived. After together conquering a foe that could not have defeated separately, we all ended up in the basement of Thomas’s house, licking our wounds — and licking the drips of hot chocolate from the sides of our mugs. The taste of victory is indeed sweet.

The Boy finally ran out of snowballs. Then it was my turn. I too had hidden a stash of snowballs around the house, but unlike The Boy, I had gotten up way before daylight.

Out-maneuvered, out-smarted, and out-gunned, he soon begged me to stop. Victory was mine. Once inside, I fixed him a cup of hot chocolate and told him of another great snowball fight. Sometimes it’s really great to be the old guy.