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We Made Our Own Fun

As the observant among you may have gathered, I grew up out in the country, and have one sibling, a younger sister (2 years my junior).

Continuing with the reminiscence theme, I am going to ramble about what we did for fun, as kids, in the winter.

Western Nebraska gets a fair amount of snow, usually in a series of sporadically-spaced, violent snowstorms, occurring any time between November and March, typically. It will blizzard like all holy hell on a given day, then the following days will bring high winds which will re-arrange the snowfall into enormous drifts. If you are lucky one day will warm up a bit, and the snow will go a little melty, then freeze up overnight, forming a strong crust that grown men can walk over.

A good blizzard-and-drift can craft snowdrifts as tall as houses. Back when my family had cattle, there were times when the calves would stop bothering to jump the fence, preferring to walk up to where the drift made a slope that topped the fence. There were times when our dad had to bust into the chicken coop with his sledge-hammer, as an iced-drift as tall as the henhouse and surrounding fence made the coop nigh on impenetrable.

A good drift, or at least a snow pile resulting from plowing was call for King of the Mountain, a thrilling game wherein all of the kids who dared would crowd the snow-mountain and throw each other violently off, vying to be the last one standing at the top, defending his/her crest. The snow around the pile was important. The game was most fun when the snow around the pile was fresh and powdery, and you could actually throw people headlong into the snow. That was funny and painless. As the snow got packed down or iced up, the game changed. Shoving replaced throwing, and it was, in some ways, easier to overthrow the King, since the top of the pile also increased in slickness, and good footholds and decent leverage toppled many a monarch.

Fox-And-Goose was another highly popular winter game, and one that we were allowed, even encouraged to play at recess (King was verboten in school hours, and a few humorless parents wished to make it illegal on schoolgrounds, but childish custom and a less litigious milieu prevailed) In Fox-And-Goose, an elaborate maze/track was prepared beforehand. The larger and more intricate it could be, the better. Our schoolyard had a large, open field at its south end, which could be used for soccer or kickball in good weather, Red Rover and Crack-the-Whip outside of school hours, and Fox-And-Goose after a snowfall. Anyway, you’d prepare the course first, by stamping the snow down flat into trails. These trails swerved, doubled back, bridged across, and dead-ended like God’s Rat Maze. We’d often spend all morning recess constructing the course, then spend lunch recess and afternoon recess playing on it. The game itself was a variant of tag, with one person “it” or the “Fox” though we never actually used the terms “fox” or “geese” in gameplay. The geese arranged themselves throughout the maze, and the Fox attempted to catch a goose, and make the Goose be “it” (Or sometimes we played so that each Goose turned into a Fox as caught and would exponentially recruit more and more Foxes until there was only one Goose left) If you stepped off the trail, you were automatically counted as “caught.” This game had built in handicaps for the younger kids, as they had hope of catching larger, faster kids by cornering them up a dead-end trail, or making them slide out of bounds on a sharp corner. It was less a game of brute speed and strenght as a game of agility and cunning. It was fast paced, and each new snow provided us with a fresh start for slalom courses of unending variation.

During the years that we had cool teachers at our school, we could sometimes sucker them into letting us go sledding in Odie Smith’s pasture on our recesses. We’d all bring sleds to school, with saucer sleds being favorite, with those roll-up blue plastic ones being a close second. The best sledding hills in Odie’s pasture were about 1/4 mile away from the school, and we’d haul ass out there in a manner that would shame most tracksters, with our sleds over our backs like blue turtle shells. We’d climb up the hill and fling ourselves down for the allotted quarter hour, then stump back to the school, exhilarated, sweating, and soaked to the skin. During sledding season, we all brought spare jeans and underpants, knowing that we’d be getting soggy and possibly muddy at SOME point.

Sometimes, before and after school, we’d forsake the pleasures of King of the Mountain in favor of constructing snow forts, and having the World’s Most Futile snowball fights. Little kids don’t generally have that great of throwing arms, and forts ranged 30″ from each other can basically be considered unbreachable bunkers. But really, the point was not the battle so much as the engineering. Who could build the tallest walls, the best peek holes, the niftiest inside steps? Whose fort would last the longest against assault, whose fort would be the last to melt?

There were a core of kids who would have considerable play-time before and after school. The Nixon boys lived directly behind the school, and were thus always handy. Jason’s mom worked and was often late to get him. The McCoy kids’ mom and my mom were friends and our moms would often sit and have a chat while we kids played. The Brost girls’ mom chummed with our mom, too, and so she’d sometimes chat, too. Due to babysitting or travel arrangements, there were other parents who were sometimes late to pick up their kids, and so there was generally someone to play with for a little while before or after school.

Of course, when there was no school, there was plenty of fun to be had, as well. During Christmas break, we played inside and out, depending on weather and inclination. Outside, weather and ice conditions permitting, we would go sliding on the frozen river. It did not freeze smooth enough to consider ice skating, but it froze smooth and solid enough to go out on the ice in snowboots, and race up and down, sliding about, or put our saucer sleds down and wing around sit-and-spin style until we were sick.

If the river was not frozen well enough, and there was snow, we’d sled in the ditches (did I mention that sled hills are hard to come by in Western Nebraska?) If we were sick of sledding, or the ditch did not have enough snow, we might dig tunnels in drifts near the house, have snowball fights, make a few snow angels, eat snow, feed snow to the rabbits (who viewed it as a delicacy) and get cold and have to go inside.

Inside, there were the 3 big, blue buckets of legos, sofa-forts to be built, book-cases to turn into Barbie houses, a hot woodstove to flick drops of water at, a cat to drive nutty with woolly mittens, and a ventilation shaft to send notes up-and-down through via jump-rope-pulley. We’d also draw comic strips, make scavenger-hunts or paperchases in the house, and roleplay.

Our notes and paperchases were marvels of nonsensical directions and advice. My sister and I would spend literal hours sending pointless, silly messages up and down the ventilation shaft, like a crude, jump-rope-relayed pre-Internet chat-session.

Our roleplay was not D&D or Star Wars or GURPS, but rather like unscripted plays we acted out with characters we’d established and brough out again, again, and again. Moosha the Mess, Cashay Clean-Girl, Benson Belly, Mr. MacGroovinally, Bibsy Bibswah, Teeny Teenager, the Alligators, the Booze Brothers, and Stowaway. (I will write another journal entry one of these days, devoted entirely to these characters!) Sometimes we, ourselves acted out the characters, and sometimes we cast our dolls in the roles. In any event, it kept us amused, and kept us from bickering too much. Our characters might antagonize each other, but we, ourselves, were having a hilariously good time roleplaying the conflict. Then again, who couldn’t have fun playing the part of a guy who eats fried truck motors?

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