The winter storm finally arrived last night, and it left behind the dense, heavy snow that is perfect for packing. Even these old, unpracticed hands had no trouble making a firm, round snowball that would be aerodynamically sound when hurled at a target. If the schools are off today due to snow, I’d expect there to be a terrific snowball fight or two, and a few snowmen around the neighborhood when I come home from work tonight.
When I was a kid, this was an exceptionally dangerous time of year. The warmer temperatures would lead to melting snow, and the melting snow would lead to slush, and the slush would lead to the risk of the dreaded slush ball. The slush ball, of course, was like a snowball, except a thousand times more painful and potentially destructive. Whereas a snowball, now matter how firmly packed, is always light and fluffy, the slush ball is a more compact and lethal missile of wet, granular snow, ice shards, and water. The snowball strikes its target with an airy “piff”-like sound. The successfully hurled slush ball, on the other hand, gives off a loud, wet “thwack.” Snowballs can be casually shrugged off. Slush balls, on the other hand, immediately drip down your neck or the front of your shirt, leaving a wet, gritty trail.
In my old neighborhood, on Short Hills Drive in Bath, Ohio, the slush ball expert was a red-headed kid named Kenny Rumbaugh. He was a few years older than we were, and bigger besides. If you were outside on a wet end-of-winter day, you had to keep an eye out for Rumbaugh. If you were careless you could suddenly find him behind you, tossing the slush ball with astonishing accuracy at the collar line of your winter coat and then slapping you on the back to ensure that the slush ball broke apart and the water and ice slid down your back with maximum chilling effect. And the neck shot was actually preferable to the alternative. If you got clobbered in the face with the slush ball, it knocked your glasses off, stung like crazy, and left an obvious red mark.
There was no defense against the slush ball. In the arsenal of childhood weapons, it was the atomic bomb.