King of the Hill!
Now that we’ve finally had a real snowfall, I see that
the snow piles around the parking lots in town are getting sizable. They have me thinking this week about my all-too-brief
reign as ‘King of the Hill’.
I suspect with the many more rules we have these days
– some probably for the better – it no doubt seems almost unthinkable that
there was a time, my own childhood no less, when you could play King of the
Hill during lunch recess on school days in the winter. King of the Hill is a simple game. All you need is a snow pile – the bigger the
better, and you need a bunch of kids. Then, someone - anyone will do – yells out, “King
of the Hill” and everyone scrambles not only to climb to the top of the snow
pile, but to remain there alone. After
all, there can only be one King of the Hill.
Now, I was never much of a physical specimen. I was shorter than most of the boys
in my class. I was wiry, which is a nice
way to say that I was skinny. But, I
understood early in life, probably from being the youngest of seven, that desire and determination, plus
leverage and a little bit of quickness could get you surprisingly far,
even in physical games like King of the Hill.
Given my physical limitations though, I was usually a noble battler, but
never King of the Hill, until one glorious day of my seventh-grade year.
We already had lots of snow that year, and then we had
another a big storm over the weekend. The
snow pile on the far end of the school parking lot next the nun’s convent house
looked like Green Bay’s own version of the Matterhorn.
One more thing you should appreciate about this story
is that when the game commenced it was open to all comers. That’s why Big Tony in eighth grade always
won. The nickname was not sarcastic; it
was appropriately descriptive. So, that
day at recess most of the boys from sixth, seventh and eighth grade attacked the snow
mountain including Big Tony. None of
them, including me, realized that this day was a day of destiny for me.
After all this time I certainly don’t recall the
details of how I managed it. There are
times when you grab the leg of the guy in front of you and pull him back
down. There are times when you have to
turn and push someone behind you off balance so that they fall back to the
bottom. It is hand-to-hand combat. I do recall realizing that I had made it to
the top. And, I realized how short
victory can last, because when I turned, I saw that Big Tony was right behind
me. Every other boy had stopped in place
and was watching now because this was the deciding moment. Once Big Tony made it to the top there were
never any more challengers. For all of
the rest of us, with Big Tony in a game of physical strength, resistance was
Big Tony was smiling smugly as he came up at me. I remember getting the thought that I
shouldn’t wait to battle him one-on-one on top of the hill. Instead, when he was making his final ascent,
I rushed him. I caught him up high on
the chest with stiff and outstretched arms and shoved for all I was worth. Big Tony hesitated momentarily, then I saw
the look of shock on his face as his arms began to flail, and then he tumbled
backwards and slid all the way to the bottom.
I raised both hands in triumph and yelled, “King of the
Then I heard her snap at me. “Danny Wagnitz, you come down from there this
instant!” It was Sister Florence. Sister Florence was an older nun, probably about
120 years old. She wasn’t a teacher anymore,
but she lived at the convent. She was
the picture of somber final judgement from her black veil, down her long, black
outer coat, down to her black pullover boots.
Timing is everything, and unfortunately for me, she had apparently just
stepped outside in time to watch Big Tony fall and slide backwards down the
hill. Sister Florence scolded me because
I was “too rough”. She was dutifully
appalled at my non-Christian behavior. She
ordered me to join her on the convent steps and banished me to sit there for
the rest of recess and think about my behavior.
Honestly, at the time that I was sitting there under
her watchful glare, what I really thought was that Sister Florence just didn’t
understand. She didn’t understand what
it was like for someone like me to defeat Big Tony. She didn’t understand what it meant and what
it felt like to be King of the Hill.
Alas, I went back into school from recess that day unrepentant.
Now, more than fifty years have passed since that
day. I have grown in years and I think
in wisdom. I have mellowed. And, as I reflect back now, I have to admit
that in my heart I still feel that Sister Florence didn’t understand. And, I don’t think she would understand why, yet
today, I think the most important thing I learned that day was what it felt like
to be King of the Hill!
His Peace <><