I was ten. I was in heaven. It was the very first day of Christmas vacation, and I could sleep late, and overnight there had been a wild blizzard, so the day ahead was bloated with the endless possibility of drifting snow. My mother informed me I could not go outside until after noon, as then the sun would chill the frigid air; so I spent the eternity of this vacation morning watching cartoons. It was lovely.
That afternoon we built snow forts, and conducted snowball bombing raids all around the block. At one point there were actual sides, the Carter Street Boys versus the Charles Street boys, but by mid-afternoon it was simply the chaos of snowballs flying everywhere at anyone. I recall it all as filled with screams and shouts and endless laughter. At four, as the sun began to set, our mothers called us home to warmth and hot chocolate. We complained bitterly until the first sip of cocoa.
The phone rang right after dinner. It was our neighbor from Carter Street, the one who had a daughter with what I then called “celery paisley”. Klara told my Mom her daughter had watched us throw snowballs all afternoon from the front window of their upper flat. It was the girl or young woman’s birthday, and Klara was wondering if we boys could entertain her with a game of touch football in the street. My mother had mentioned it was ten below, but soon assured Klara we boys would be there soon.
To be honest, we were delighted. Football under the streetlights was a real treat, and on a bitterly cold Green Bay Packer night when you could pretend to be Bart Starr crawling the final yard into the end zone, well heaven had returned. Eight boys divided up and played their hearts out for the girl in the window – we could not see her in detail, but we waved at her and she returned an arc of an angled wave. We hooted and howled and pumped our fists. We leaped in the air to capture a pass, and ran like bulls for extra yardage. We were at our best, and most entertaining, an unbeatable combination.
After an hour, we were going numb, and so waved goodbye, and headed home. My mom had made hot buttered popcorn, and we had little green bottles of ice cold Coke, and watched TV – it had been decided I could have three of the boys over for a sleepover; which promised to be a real fart fest. It was. My mother thanked us for being such boys, but told us she needed to flee my bedroom before she could no longer breathe. We fell asleep from laughter fatigue.
A few years back, while serving on Shelter Island, a high school senior boy in my youth group informed the entire youth group he had never once been invited to a birthday party in all the time he had lived there. He said our youth group was supposedly a place to be honest, and he wanted to be assured that no other kid would endure such a sinful shunning. As I heard his quavering story, I wondered – Where were their mothers? Why hadn’t the mothers, or even the rare father, made sure this boy had been included? How was it possible that our mothers could get us out on a frigid winter night to entertain a disabled girl in a window, because it was her birthday – even if we did not know her name?
Morality is taught. It's enforced with expectation, a silent stare, a pointed finger. It was rewarded with buttered popcorn and a sleepover. Times are changing, and today’s parents cannot seem to muster up the courage to expect their kids to extend an invitation for a birthday party – let alone brace against the howling winds of December in Wisconsin, to delight a fan in a window after the streetlights went on, and eight boys got the chance to be Packers.
This is not good change, not good at all. This is a movement to lower ground --sinking sand.
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.