All week I’ve been thinking of Thanksgivings past. Our epic drives from southeast Missouri to Central Kansas in the late 70’s (If you haven’t made 12 hour drives in ice storms with nothing but AM radio to keep you awake, well, you haven’t lived. The added bonus of hearing Billy Joel’s “My Life” 900 times in 1978.). Leaving Kansas City after my mom got home from work at 10:30 to drive all night in 1982 (and hearing “Maneater” 1000 times). On to high school, when I discovered the joy of eating dinner with my family, then going to two friends’ houses and eating again two more times. College, when you used the break to prepare for finals, invent drinking games, and play football on Friday. Finally, adulthood, when you’d rather rent a movie and get some extra sleep on Thanksgiving Eve rather than drink until you’re silly. Add in the Dallas Cowboys to each age, and you’ve got a mishmash of memories spanning my life. But one Thanksgiving memory sticks out.
I’m guessing it was 1982, when I was in sixth grade, and the weekend before Thanksgiving we had a pretty heavy snowstorm. Within two days, it was warm again and the snow was melting down to the perfect consistency for making snowballs. The day before Thanksgiving, after getting out of school, a large group of fellow middle schoolers congregated at a section of our neighborhood that was well hidden by trees and houses, but allowed for good visibility to the traffic in both directions. We began assembling an arsenal of snowballs and picking off the cars that passed us. To our left was a large hill that went for several blocks, so the older guys could always identify high school kids early enough that we were extra ready to pummel them. What a great day! We were inside 18 hours of Thanksgiving dinner, football, and a four-day weekend. We had snowballs and steady traffic. For an 11 year old, this was about as good as it got. (It should be noted I was equally happy about blasting cars with snowballs when I was 21 and snowed into a house in Lawrence that sat at a busy intersection, but that’s another story.)
At some point, after we had entered a state of ecstasy that can only be achieved in winter when there’s a healthy supply of snow, someone shouted out, “TEENAGERS!!!!!” as a car slowly made it’s way down the hill. By then, our radars were locked in. Our packing skills refined. We were mean, lean, throwing machines. Every boy frantically scooped snow and dropped the lumpy product at his feet. Eyes twitched, arms hung loose yet poised, we all licked our lips in anticipation. Finally, the blue K-car came into view and we unleashed our destructive volley. I can still hear the smack of tightly packed ice against metal and glass. POP POP POP. It seemed like every snowball met its target, more than a few hitting the windshield on the passenger side. Before we could begin celebrating, however, a wicked screech pierced the air. The car jerked to a stop, and the passenger door flew open. Out jumped not a teenager, but a grown man in a suit and tie. Being a coward by nature, I turned and ran before most, so I didn’t hear the shout of, “STOP! POLICE!”
The next few minutes were a haze. All I know is my pre-teen, world class speed was confirmed, as even across empty fields and snow, I was one of the first to come out in the next neighborhood. I’m not sure why I went with the pack that way. I could have easily cut through a grove of woods and circled back to my home. Maybe it was the alleged police officer that was chasing us. Yeah, that’s probably why I stuck to the front of the pack, rather than separate myself and bring unwarranted attention. I know we made a couple abortive attempts to shake our pursuer, by eventually his partner in the K-car appeared and we were cornered. Again, my cowardly instincts took over, and I moved from the front back into the pack. The panting office that had chased us on foot walked up and joined his partner. He kept his hands on his belt, which held his suit coat back so we could see the badge attached to one side of his belt, and his revolver on the other. “Holy shit,” I thought, “I’m going to get shot by a cop on Thanksgiving Eve!”
I don’t remember much of the speech we got, although I do remember it was delivered in classic good cop – bad cop style. The passenger was angry, yelling and often turning away from us in frustration, while his partner attempted to diffuse his anger. One thing they said has always stuck with me, though, “They don’t serve turkey in jail!” What?!?! We’re going to jail?!?! I can’t go to jail, I’m only 11. I didn’t really do anything wrong. It’s Thanksgiving. How would my mom know to come and get me? What if I’m stuck there all weekend because of the holiday? I’ll miss the Cowboys game and copying Dungeons & Dragons manuals. This can’t be happening!
Eventually, the cops left us, confident their severe lecture had taken ten hoodlums off the wrong path in life. We shuffled back slowly back to our homes. No one was even interested in a good game of snow football to end the day. We all just wanted to get inside and hope nothing else came between us and the next day’s feast. Until I got to college, I never threw another snowball at a car unless I knew exactly who was driving it. The image of the Raytown police officer, complete with his stereotypical mustache, brazenly showing his holstered gun to us was burned into my head. I think most of the other people I was with that day ended up in prison, but I learned my lesson. I wasn’t about to let a little classic American hijinks get between me and my favorite holiday, or anything else.
May all my loyal readers have a safe and happy holiday. I’ll be posting stuff throughout the weekend, so if you’ve still got access, check in from time to time.