My first blog of 2012. That’s “Twenty Twelve” for those of you who still don’t know that this is my current pet peeve. It’s not two thousand twelve. We didn’t say one thousand nine hundred ninety-nine did we? Where did that phrase pet peeve come from anyway? It’s a back-formation of the 14th century word peevish. Like that helps. What is a back-formation? Well, that’s when you add or subtract letters from a word (appix), usually centuries apart, but not always, like televise and television, and typewrite and typewriter. Pet peeves are usually irritations involving someone close to you.
I was told a story once about an elderly man who murdered his wife of 50 years. When asked why he did it, he said, “She covered my milk.” He explained that, for fifty years, every time he went to the refrigerator to get a glass of milk, he would have to dig out the milk carton from the back because she would push it to the back and cover it with something else. He finally snapped and removed the cause of his pet peeve. Whether it’s true or not, it’s a good exercise to do with your significant other, if you haven’t killed them yet. By simply asking what you do to cover their milk, you can make small, even minor, behavioral changes that might keep them from snuffing you out, keep you from being the next episode on “Dateline NBC” or “48 Hours Mystery.”
My first real brush with death came in second grade during recess. It wasn’t when Laurie Day decided to beat me up after school one day, and in my defense I had been brought up not to hit a girl, but rather occurred while sliding down Linden Hill one snowy, icy, cold January day. Linden School was your basic two-story, rectangular, brick and granite school building. You would find hundreds, nay thousands, of the same building all over the country with names like Thomas Jefferson Elementary, and George Washington Elementary, and Lincoln Elementary, or Warren G. Harding Elementary. All the exact same architectural design. You could go to George Washington Elementary in Des Moines, Iowa and know exactly where the third-grade classroom was on the first floor. Your desk would look the same as the desk in Des Moines, probably with the same books in them. There were other identical elementary schools in Sheridan, Wyoming. Kindergarten, first, and second-grades in the basement, third and fourth-grade classrooms on the first floor, fifth and sixth-grade classrooms on the second floor. A metal fire escape hung off the side of the building that scared the begeezuz out of you if you climbed to the top. First, second, and third-graders weren’t allowed on the fire escape, in fact no one was allowed to “play” on the fire escape, but we did anyway, sometimes after school, sometimes during recess. You could see the whole playground from up there, and you could watch the “skiers” on the hill.
Linden was the only elementary school with its own hill in the back. A hill you could play on in the spring and fall, but in the winter it became a major ski resort. During recess, lines of kids would climb up the horizontal trail to their grade level slide, younger kids on the lower part of the hill, and the older kids on the big runs. After a few days of use, the runs would become solid ice. You stood up on your boots in the ruts going down the hill, picking up speed as you slid down. Those with less than stellar balance would crouch down and slide so the ground was closer when you fell. Making it down the sixth-grade run, the highest and longest on the hill, on your feet, would make you somewhat of a second-grade legend. Alan was one of those legends. He had done it, not just once on a dare, but many times after that and was accepted in the sixth-grade line at the top of the hill.
The teachers hated the hill, particularly in the winter. They actually marked out the hill with grade-level wooden stakes. You were not allowed to climb the trail higher than your grade allowed on the wooden marker. Same as colored skill levels on a ski run. We broke the rule a lot, of course, but if the playground monitor caught you on a higher level run than you were allowed, they would haul you off by your ear lobe to sit in library detention for the rest of recess, or lunch. I think my left ear lobe is longer than my right because of it.
A talented sixth-grader coming off the highest run, would take their boots off to get more speed. Sliding down the 32 degree slope in two ruts of solid ice fifty-yards long, you would go airborne a third of the way down at the trail crossing, and if you landed the rest of the run, you would continue sliding out into the middle of the snow covered playground at the bottom, scattering girls and kindergarteners everywhere. And there was applause. A good run would erupt in applause, screams and whistles from the hill. Like any second-grader, I knew I could make the run and I would be a legend, like Alan. So I worked my way up the hill over the next few days, doing practice runs from the third, fourth and fifth-grade runs. I was only caught once. On Monday morning, during morning recess, I climbed the hill to the sixth-grade run, then walked off the trail to the very top. I should have bailed right then, looking down,(and looking back), but I had already told my friends I was doing it, and they were waiting at the bottom of the hill, excitement was building. It would have been worse than getting beat-up by a girl, which, by the way, had not been witnessed by anyone except Laurie’s friend Carol Martin.
Oh yeah, I took off my zipper rubbers and left them up there on the top of the hill. They’re probably still there, waiting to be dug up in some archeological dig still years from now. Nothing between me and the ice but the slick leather soles on my shoes. The sixth-graders weren’t happy about me being in line up there, and some threatened to turn me in, but no one did. I guess they all figured this would be rather entertaining. My turn came and I got on the ice track just as I heard the playground monitor scream out my name. I was off, and by the time I hit the mogul at the trail I figured my speed over sixty miles an hour. My shoes left the ground, higher, higher, and higher I went, then headed back down towards the ice track. I was at least halfway down the run, flying through the air as the ground started to get closer, and that’s the last thing I remember. I woke up in a cot in the nurses’ office. I tried to sit up and was promptly told to lie back down. My head was pounding from a baseball-sized lump on the side of my head. It felt soft and mushy when I pressed on it, which made it hurt even more.
My mother showed up shortly after and walked, yes walked, me home. I sat watching soap operas on the couch the rest of the day with an ice-pack made from a kitchen towel on my head. Knowing what I do today, I probably suffered a cracked skull, definitely a concussion, brain trauma and shouldn’t have been lying down, probably. But that was then, and school nurses and administrators weren’t worried that I was prepared to sue the Sheridan County School District for millions of dollars for allowing an attractive nuisance to operate in their backyard and letting me get on it.
Linden School was two blocks over and two blocks up the street from the house on Burkitt Street. I say “was” because they tore it down a few years back, for what I deemed no apparent reason, and built a new one-story Linden School far away from any hill. I’m sure it had to do with liability issues or maybe even operating a ski area without a license.
We played baseball there, basketball, football, kickball, we sledded, tobogganed, launched model rockets, raced go-carts, flew model airplanes, climbed the hill on our mini-bikes, played marbles, and did other assorted kid things there. There was no fence around the school, no locked gate. It was basically an all-purpose facility and we were allowed to use it anytime we wanted.