WINTER RECESS AT SCHOOL It was always the same message every winter of every school year by the good sisters of St. Joseph School. “Remember, no snowball throwing, someone will get hurt!” We were not only planning on throwing snowballs at recess but also planning to find gravel to pack into our snowballs to add more weight to assure an accurate throw to the intended target (usually a fellow student).
Preparing to head outside for recess in the snow was quite the ordeal especially throughout the lower grade years. Morning recess was 10 – 10:15; lunch break began at noon and recess started as we individually finished eating until 1 p.m. On a good day when lunch required less chewing and could be swallowed nearly whole, our recess time could be as long as forty-five minutes.
Back to getting bundled up for recess. Daily, any number of kids could not find their boots, a matching pair that is. The boots were all alike, black rubber, identical snap buckles that could not be paired up even in a police line-up. As neatly as the nuns attempted to arrange our outdoor gear in the cloakroom, everything got jumbled in the mad rush to get outside. Obviously this task was not included in a nun’s training before making final vows. On any given winter day there were at least a couple kids who never made it out the door for recess for lack of finding boots or gloves or scarves or caps. Then the crying began and lasted until the fortunate kids who did make it outside returned for the start of class. Many the winter day I spent recess with two right or two left boots and a scarf around my neck and a cap on my head that I had never seen before. I enjoyed being outside and truly understood that there was another kid loving the fresh winter air dressed in a miss-mix outfit that complemented mine.
The grand recess event was to slide down the hill behind the outdoor grotto between the convent and church. Back in the day, the hill stretched out for what seemed to be a half mile and at the steepest incline ever viewed by mankind. Actually in viewing it today the ever so slightly inclined hill extends for no more than thirty feet. We were completely enveloped in our own miniature world surrounded by the towering pine trees that were the backdrop for the grotto.
Our only “stopper” at the end of our snow-covered slide was a wire cattle fence that prevented us from continuing down the hill and through the woods into Leick’s creek. When we crashed into the fence we knew that we had more or less successfully made it to the bottom.
The ultimate challenge was to glide down the hill standing up wearing boots or winter shoes (or as we called them, “hightops”). It was never simple making it from top to bottom while standing. Most often we fell on the way down and slid on our backs or fronts, head first, feet first or sideways. It was uglier than it was pretty and there were seldom points awarded for style. It was all such fun but became dangerous when the slope turned to ice from the original snow fall after being packed by all the usage and from dumping buckets of water onto the slope and allowing it to freeze overnite for a faster/slicker track.
Typically, only a handful of boys were capable of standing up all the way down the hill. That was demeaning enough to those of us boys who seldom could achieve it but far worse to be shown up by a few girls who easily slid down the hill standing and with little effort.