I know that I sell myself here as a jock. It’s kind of a “the older I get the better I was” deal. But I did hold my own around most of the hoops venues of the twin towns. And I can play tennis slightly above the level of embarrassment. My self image is that of a hardnosed jock. And I love athletic competition.
It hasn’t always been that way though. Through high school..actually more like through the Forest Service days, I was the whimp’s whimp. I was so skinny that at one point my sister’s first husband (a former all stater and gopher hoopster) could get his hands all the way around any part of my body except my head. I got my bird like frame from my mother who in her youth was cast as a “Starving Armenian” in a church drive to help the Amenians. I could have been the model for the before in Charles Atlas ads.
I think that for some reason my coming as this late life baby, out of nowhere or as a result of my Father’s new found sobriety, made Mom feel like I was some fragile gift from God. I was babied and spoiled and over protected and so by the time kindergarten rolled around I was a physical coward. I was so terrified of getting hurt that I really shied away from the boy’s rough-housing. Susan Egge beat me up for cripes sake.
In northwestern Minnesota March is an iffy month. You’d have a big snow storm followed by a couple of days of sunny weather in the high forties and then a dive into the single figures above zero. This would have the effect of turning the playgound at Thomas Edison elementary school into a jagged, frozen desert, a sheet of ice with frozen clumps of dirt and grass and jagged shards of ice protruding from it’s surface.
Thomas Edison was one of those fifties style schools, brick, one story and spead out. Two of it’s wings formed a rectangle open at one end that bordered the playground. When we arrived at school in the mornings and after lunch (it was a nieghborhood school and most of us walked home for lunch), even in the coldest weather, they made us wait outside in that rectangle until it was time to open the doors.
The rougher boys occupied their time playing PumpPumpPoleAway. That’s what we called it. I couldn’t find a reference to it on the net, but I think it’s called Bulldog now. It’s a form of tag that starts with on person being “it,” and the rest lined up on one side of the yard. On a signal. “PumpPumpPoleAway” in our case, everyone runs to the opposite end of the field and “it” tries to tag them. If you are tagged you stay in the middle and join the bulldogs. The process is repeated until the last person is left.
Mike Fitzgerald, Norm Robbinson and Mike Young came up with a variation. The called it simply, “Tackle Pump.” As the name implies it wasn’t good enough to just tag the victim, you had to tackle them. So in the freezing cold, with jackets off and no protective padding, they would crash into each other, driving their targets into the frozen ground, swearing and laughing like maniacs.
I stayed on the sidewalk, ashamed of my weakness and fear.