Remembering the days of snowballs and snow forts

Published 9:24 am Friday, February 18, 2011

Column: Dick Herfindahl, Woods and Water

This past week we had a much needed break from a harsh winter. I have written a couple of different times about one of the “Born Loser” cartoons where the dad was telling the son about how when he was a kid the winters were hard and the snowdrifts were over his head. In this cartoon the boy was walking behind his dad as he shoveled the walk and all you could see was the tassel on the top of his stocking cap. I was reminded of that cartoon last weekend when my granddaughter, Emma, came to visit and was playing in the snow. As she stood on the sidewalk she was dwarfed by the height of the snow piled high on each side of the walk.

Dick Herfindahl

I have always enjoyed reminiscing about my younger days and the fun we used to have playing outdoors. Those times were different in a lot of ways because we didn’t have a lot of the conveniences that are available to us today so kids had to make their own fun.

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Making snow forts was a great way to spend time after school or on a weekend. Of course the deepest snow was usually along side the roadway where the snow had piled up when the plow cleared the road. My mother would always fuss about how we didn’t need to be playing that close to the road in case a car went off or the snow plow came along again. Now at the time I didn’t realize that it was a mom’s job to worry about her kids, and I just thought that she was just being a little too over protective.

Once a person had an established fort, which was a group effort with most of the neighborhood kids participating, we’d usually need to build another for the ensuing snowball fight. We’d spend hours after school or on a Saturday pitching snowballs at each other and of course a good snowball was pretty much hard as a rock and could travel with a lot of velocity. If you were really creative and wanted to take the time, ice balls (which were proclaimed illegal by the kid rules) would sneak into the fight. Once they were used it didn’t take long until someone would get hit in the face and start crying. Once the victim had quit crying he would try to figure out ways to retaliate.

There were two ways that someone would retaliate, and neither was good if the kid that you were trying to get even with was bigger than you. There were times when a kid would put rocks inside of a snowball thinking it would make it sting even worse when getting hit. Although I don’t think they would hurt as much as an ice ball, the unwritten kid code said rocks were not to be used. If the kid didn’t want to risk a beating he’d wait until everyone had gone home and then sneak back and trash the perpetrator’s fort.

I do believe that this was a good example of kids just being kids. There were never any lingering hard feelings and the next day you started over. The only lingering question might be “who trashed my fort?” The fort was considered yours by property lines. If we built a fort on one of our yards then it would be labeled by that kid’s name no matter how many kids built it.

Playing outdoors as a kid in those days was simple fun, and the only structure was the rules we imposed on ourselves. We just went out and used our imagination trying to create a little fun. Sometimes I think that parents can spend too much time making sure a child has plenty to do in their “free time” which in all reality it isn’t. As a youth hockey coach I don’t expect my players to think about hockey 24/7 because they still need down time to do other things. I once read a quote by Herb Brooks that referred to down time, and he said that the sport should not take up all of a kid’s life, and that kids need time to be kids and spend their summers fishing, swimming or playing baseball in the back yard, mainly just being kids.

When we get kids interested in fishing and hunting then we are opening up a whole new world for them. Without the involvement of today’s youth the future of the outdoors as we know it today could change, and it could have an adverse effect on the environment. It is a fact that there are fewer and fewer hunting and fishing licenses being sold today than ever before so encouraging our youth to get outdoors and enjoy hunting or fishing is a step in the right direction.

Hunting and fishing are sports that we can do as families. Fishing can be very rewarding for a parent or grandparent when they see their child catch their very first fish. I know that if I can take my grandkids fishing and watch them catch fish then that is what’s important. I even get a lot of pleasure in watching one of my grandkids catch a fish and say “hey Grandpa, it’s bigger than the one that you caught.” Now that’s what it’s all about. My grandson, Trevor, has his driver’s license and has become pretty independent when it comes to hunting and fishing. Trevor loves to ice fish and will be there whether they are biting or not. Trevor spends almost all of his spare time hunting in the fall. Whether hunting of fishing he just enjoys being there because he loves the outdoors.

My sure cure for cabin fever is pretty simple; I just anticipate spending some summer days up north with the grandkids.

Until next time, watch out for thin ice, play safe and above all get outside and enjoy the great Minnesota outdoors!

Remember our brothers and sisters who are proudly serving our country so that we can keep enjoying the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears every Friday in the Tribune.