During winter, there are plenty of things to do. I zip down Old Grove hill every Saturday until it's almost dark. On Sunday, after Monsignor Gille mumbles his last blessing at the 11:45 a.m. mass, Crazy Annie and I walk home to eat dinner. After I'm finished, I head to the Old Grove. By the way, Notre Dame nuns end prayers with, "Thanks be to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph." Louie Abler and I say, "Thanks be to Jesus, Mary, and Gille." We giggle. Gille wouldn't giggle if he heard us, though.
As to sleds, Louie's older brothers own the fastest in town. It's a three or four-man bobsled that outruns and out steers any kid's sled any day any time. It has separate runners on the front and back. They can steer the front runners. They don't bother with Old Grove. Instead, they haul that bobsled all the way to Rib Mountain near Wausau.
Our teacher said, "Rib Mountain is not a mountain."
I raised my hand.
"Then, why is it called a mountain?" I knew better not to say another word from the way she looked.
I call my sled "FF" because Flexible Flyer sometimes comes out as "Fuh-fuh-fuh-flexible Fuh-fuh-flyer." Because sleds don't have brakes, we drag boots or overshoes on the ground behind us to stop at the bottom of the hill because we don't want to end up on the road. My brakes are high-top boots with a knife pocket on the right boot.
The salesman at Johnson and Hills department store said, "Ain't nobody put those pockets on the left boot, Kiddo. They're only on the right."
"Why's that? I'm not the only left handed kid in the world."
Mother wanted my first-grade teacher to make me a right hander. "God made your son a left-hander," said the teacher. "That's why I'm teaching Gordon to slant the paper in the opposite direction of my right-handed students." Teacher must've known Mother wouldn't mess with God.
Back to Johnson and Hills. "Well, kid, you gotta look at it this way, Kiddo," said the salesman. "There's more righters than there's lefters."
"Righters and Lefters are plural. You should've said, 'There are more.' Even so, righters and lefters aren't words because they're not in my dictionary." I waited and then added, "And not even in the big dictionary at the public library." (I wasn't certain of that but didn't tell him).
He twiddled with his mustache. "So, you're a smart kid, are ya, being a doctor's son, an' all?"
"Gordon." When Mother calls me Gordon, I'd better watch out, but he was such a jerk, and his breath stank like a barrel of dead fish floating in kerosene.
"You won't find a knife pocket on any left boot in the good ol' U. S. of A," he said. "An' you can take that to the bank, Kiddo."
"Which one, First National or Wood County?"
"GORDON." Lips stayed shut from then on. GBH is no fool. Thing is, I never took my knife out of that boot pocket except when I got home and put it back in my Levis' pocket. Why I kept putting the knife in that boot pocket is beyond me.
Last time I wrote in you, Bobby Kell and I went to the Old Grove, pulling our sleds. That afternoon, Bobby froze the skin on the bottom of both nostrils. The skin turned almost white, but not quite. I don't think there's a name for that color.
On weekdays, on our way to and from school, if we see a car backing out of a driveway or stopped at a stop sign, we bend over in a crouch and run to the back of the car, hoping the driver won't see us. Then, we grab the rear bumper with both hands and wait. After the car takes off, we slide on our boots, enjoying the ride.
One time, Lee Anunson and I slid for four blocks because Bibs, Lee's older brother, was the driver. If their dad knew what we were doing, he wouldn't laugh. Of that, I'm certain.
One time, as I was holding on to a bumper, the driver turned around, eyeballed me, pumped a fist, and yelled something.
When I finally figured out what had happened—he had hit the brakes—and where I was—under his car—I rolled over on my side, grabbed hold of a running board, and pulled myself out as fast as I could, snow and ice all over me.
The driver got out his car. "Goddammit, you little son of a bitch, you coulda' gotten killed."
I went, "Nyahhh" because I was a long way from him. He got back in his car, put it in reverse, and took off after me. I ran between houses to the next street. When I got to the next sidewalk, he was waiting for me. Honking the horn, he yelled through the open window, "I'll get you, you little son of a bitch. Then, we'll go see Rudy Exner." Rudy's our Chief of Police.
I ran between a different pair of houses. When I got to the next sidewalk, I was certain he'd be waiting for me. He wasn't. That was the end of that.
Sometimes at night, Johnny Nelson, Louie Abler, and I meet in front of Turbin's store on Baker Street. We hunch down on the outer steps, leading to the store's basement, because we finished making our ammunition: Snowballs. Then, we wait for semi-trucks. When the truck's driver passes by, we rush up the stairs and toss our ammo at the trailer. "Bang. Bangedy-bang-bang."
That night, we laughed like the dickens, that is, until Officer Smith, "Smitty, the Cop," approached us ever so slowly in his squad. The red light on the car's roof started revolving brightly. Next, the siren blared. We took off through Polansky's backyard bushes to our backyard. The siren stopped.. We hid in our garage as the red light turned and turned, Smitty stopping in front. We dared not breathe. Thankfully, Smitty didn't leave the squad's warmth. A couple days later, though, he stopped me on my way home from school. "Hey, Red," he called out.
"Yes sir," I said as I approached his open passenger side window.
"Better stop throwing iceballs at eighteen-wheelers. Somebody could get hurt, even killed." He waited.
Then, he added, "Got it?"
I nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Nuff said, ayyyy? I thought you'd see it my way." He drove off.
About a week later, Louie, Johnny, and I waited on Turbin's stairs, having packed plenty of ammo. We were on high alert, looking either for eighteen-wheelers or Smitty's squad to make its way on Baker Street as slow as a funeral car with a coffin inside, leading a line of cars with their headlights turned on all the way to Mount Calvary cemetery.