There we were ten against one. Sure he was bigger but we had more resolve. We knew if we stood together and stared him down, he would have no recourse but to turn around and go away. This story of little Davids against a garganguan goliath happened in 1971 when my brothers and sisters left Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas to Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri.
That winter, we were six horny toads tossed into a icy wonderland. We had grown up in El Paso where if it snowed an inch they shut the city down. That year in Ft Leonard Wood, we watched it snow six inches from our two story four bedroom Army quarters on 21 Gwen circle, a culdesac that started high and swooped down and back up again like a Hot Wheels race track.
When it started to snow, us kids were glad of course, because it meant the schools would be closed—at least in El Paso that’s what it always meant. You can imagine our surprise when we all piled by my mom’s huge stereo to hear nothing but idle chatter, hog reports and songs by Porter Wagner and Dolly Parton.
Maybe it was a conspiracy. Maybe it was a secret Ft. Leonard Wood Army base tradition to make it’s tender young ones toughen up by trudging through the snow to school-preparing them for their future as GI’s.
My brother Peter, never a reliable source, told me that the only time Ft Leonard Wood had ever closed the schools was if more six children didn’t come home from school on a snow day. Then and only then, he said, would they close the schools but then everyone had to slop through the snow and search for the missing school children anyway. If there were less than six children, he explained, everything went on as before until the missing children were uncovered by bored squirrels or the spring thaw—whichever came first.
We went to school that day and trudged back home just to sit by the window and watch it snow all afternoon. It snowed all evening and sometime that night, it warmed up a bit and the falling snow turned to rain. Before sunrise, the temperature took a nosedive and every thing was incased in ice: the cars, the trees, every blade of grass even—mummified in ice.
We cheered as school was canceled and bundled up with layers of shirts sweaters and thin El Paso coats. We scrambled to find miss-matched socks to put on our hands—gloves? We didn’t need any stinking gloves—okay we didn’t have any stinking gloves—their were six of us—you do the math. We put on our socks—two or three thick and at last ventured out. We went out back first because from our back door there was a little yard and a twenty foot slope right into the woods.
My brother Bill the eternal Wisenhiemer spied his first victim and pointed down the hill. “What’s that…looks like a reindeer.” I scooted as fast I could across the back yard and when I looked down the hill, “I don’t see anything.” My brother laughed and said, “Well, maybe you need to look closer!” and suddenly I felt myself go down on the hard ice and then speed a 1000 miles down hill popping little grass blade icicles as I went. I’m not quite sure how long it took me to get back up hill but when I did everyone was in the front.
Remember I said our culdesac was like a Hot Wheels race track--imagine that Hot Wheels race track on ice. Needless to say our street was perfect for sledding. Being our first winter there, we didn’t have sleds of course so we and some otherwise deprived kids “borrowed” trash can lids from surrounding houses. We slipped up the hill to the mouth of our street and careened down at top speed to almost certain crash. Only to creep up the hill, bruised, numb and stupid enough to do it again.
After a couple of hours of this, we couldn’t feel our faces and decided to go inside but then we heard it: a slow rumble and squeak inching our way—The Sand Truck. All six of us kids and a four other Gwenn Circle gutter snipes took the hill one more time just as the truck was approaching the mouth.
We lined up with our trash can lids as shields and just stood there, half frozen, blue lipped with noses running little ice slicks down our nostrils. The Sandman honked his horn which made us jump but having been raised by a drill sergeant, we knew how to quickly get back into formation.
He stared at us and laughed but we didn’t budge. One minute passed. Two and then three. I started doing the flamingo because I had to pee real bad but I knew better than to break ranks. “Come on! Do something!” I mumbled numbly and finally he did.
He left—the Sandman backed up his truck and chugged on off down the street. I’m sure if he woulda got out of his truck we would’ve scattered like scared monkeys but it was probably warm inside and around lunch time and besides this was the Army not the city, what were they going to do if he didn’t sand one street— fire him?
We gave a cheer and had one more victorious slide down the caldesac. Then we trudged on home to melt the frozen socks off our hands.