Today’s reports of over a foot of snow in my old hometown of Yukon, Oklahoma brought back a flood of memories. No doubt, there are kids bundled up, braving the -17 degree wind chills to enjoy the drifting bliss. Frostbite is a small price to pay for a little taste of winter fun.
As a kid, a good, playable snowfall came around about as often as an invitation to an Independence Middle School dance. Throughout most of my junior high career, I weighed 107 lbs. soaking wet, with at least 50% of that weight assigned to my giant head. I’ll let you do the math to determine the probability of me luring the ladies.
As you might imagine, appropriate warm weather gear was one of the first items to fall off my family’s prioritized budget, coming right after “Japanese Kimono for Dad” and just before “Extra Magic 8-Ball Game In Case The Original Doesn’t Work Right.” I always managed to get a good, heavy coat each winter along with some gloves and a stocking cap. Most of this stuff was second-hand from my older brother, which was fine because I idolized him. The only drawback is that it was all 5-7 years out of style. The silver lining is that I can personally take all of the credit for carrying the “Starsky and Hutch” craze into the early-80’s.
Boots and snow pants were another story. Several of my friends sported ski suits and moon boots, spurred by the fact that their fathers capitalized on the oil boom of the late 70’s. I, on the other hand, made do with random stuff from my closet. Tennis shoes. Five pair of socks. Three pair of jeans. This stuff would keep you warm until it got wet with snow. Then you would literally freeze and turn into a Popsicle, totally immobile from the neck down. In the Oklahoma wind, this took about 25 minutes.
One snowy day, my mom saw me warming my feet by the fireplace. My toes were bright red.
“I want some moon boots.”
“Why do you want moon boots?”
“Because they are really warm. Barry and T.J. and Theron can play in the snow for hours without getting cold. My feet get wet and then get all frozen.”
* Early 80's Moon Boots: Oh How I Covet Thee
I waited to see what mom’s reaction would be. Had I sold her?
“That’s right. You need a way to keep your feet from getting wet.”
“Exactly, Mom. That’s exactly what I need.”
Mom thought for a moment, smiled, and said, “I think I can help.”
I envisioned this would be one of those movie moments, where mom would walk around the corner, then return with a gift-wrapped box. One that she had been holding on to for just such an occasion. A box containing the most beautiful moon boots I had ever laid eyes on.
And mom appeared from around the corner, just as I had imagined. A smile on her face.
And in her hands?
Pink plastic baggies.
“These should work!” she said proudly.
Mom was a Mary Kay sales rep. And she was darn good at it, too. But this was not the first time I had been double-crossed by the makeup mogul. One year earlier, I had been bragging to my friends at school that my mom was coming to pick me up in our family’s new car. It was scheduled to arrive at the dealer that afternoon.
“She won it at work,” I boasted.
I waited outside after the final bell rang, only to see my mom pull up, proudly honking the horn of a flashy, PINK Buick Regal. You can imagine the fun my buddies had with that one.
Now she wanted me to be the first-ever 9-year-old boy to serve as a walking billboard for a makeup conglomerate.
I immediately started whining. “No, Mom! Moon boots!”
* A much manlier version of my snowy footwear. No vintage bag images available.
“But honey,” she pleaded. “We can’t get out in this weather, and you want your feet to be dry. These are the only plastic bags we have in the house that can fit over your shoes. Besides, it’ll be fun..”
Mom continued with one of her textbook sales pitches, able to turn every situation into a fun, funny, exciting adventure. But this time, I wasn’t biting. I looked down at the pink baggies, emblazoned with hundreds of little maroon Mary Kay logos.
No way in hell.
Then I remembered the epic snowball fight that was set to begin promptly after lunch. The baggies could prolong my fun. But there was a genuine risk to my reputation as well. Public ridicule of this nature could be on par with puking in the lunchroom with the whole school present. It’s hard to recover from that kind of social setback. In fact, many kids suspected that was the reason Michael Taylor moved to the west coast midway through the second grade at Surrey Hills Elementary.
I had to make a decision – and fast.
Maybe no one will notice, I thought. My feet will be covered in snow most of the time anyway. In an instant, I had convinced myself that I could pull it off.
After lunch, mom double-bagged each of my feet, and secured them at the ankles with a couple of rubber bands twisted over on themselves. I donned my coat and headed into the tundra. I immediately noticed a difference. My feet did feel warmer. We were set to meet at a house down the street. However, I made a quick stop at Barry Cunningham’s house, my next-door neighbor.
Barry was younger than me, and heavy-set as a kid. This made him an easy target for verbal jabs from some of my neighborhood friends. I really liked Barry. We got along well, and I did my best to come to his defense, usually with my own shrewdly-worded comments, as my fists never were my strong suit. Barry subsequently grew to be a muscular star athlete by the time he graduated high school, dating a super-hot cheerleader. That said, I’m fairly certain that my subconscious was hoping that if I arrived with seven-year-old Barry, he might distract some of the attention away from me.
“What’s that?” he asked, standing confidently in his bright blue moon boots.
“What do you mean?”
I acted like I had no idea what he was talking about.
“You’re wearing pink makeup bags on your feet.”
“Oh. Yeah. Those. Um... I just thought they might help to keep my feet warm and make me faster or something.”
Barry didn’t question my logic. He threw on his coat and followed me to Brady Farr’s house.
It was evident from the outset that my decoy plan was backfiring. When we finally ran into the other guys, the few extra pounds that Barry was carrying around his midsection were no match for my shiny pink plastic feet. I might as well have been wearing a ballet tutu and dancing on a giant, frosted cupcake.
Sure, there were a couple of insults that were both cutting and creative. Fairy Boy. Pinky Toes. But most of the kids just stood in silence, trying to make sense of what they were seeing. It wasn’t until their brains started to compute that I had indeed chosen to cover my feet in pink Mary Kay bags that they started laughing hysterically. My toasty toes were now accompanied by my face, colored red-hot with embarrassment.
I fought back with humor, the only weapon I’ve ever had at my disposal.
“Yeah guys. Isn’t this hilarious! I thought it would be funny to come out here wearing these pink bags. I had to steal ‘em from my mom.” I pranced around and made a few kids laugh. The barbs died down a little until the last couple of guys showed up. The time for joking was over.
It was game time.
There is no real logic to a snowball fight. The goal is simply to dish out as much punishment as you can. The only rule is that you can’t throw slush balls. They do too much damage, and as soon as someone starts crying, a mom inevitably comes out and cancels the match. We stood in a loose huddle, and each kid made several snow balls. Then, someone said, “Go!” It was in that moment that I realized my mistake.
I don’t know much about the laws of physics, but I now know that friction can be a helpful aid when it comes to running. Imagine jumping into a plastic garbage bag and trying to run up a theme park water slide. That’s the situation I was facing. I had essentially coated my feet with slippery plastic, and was trying to zig and zag all over a packed-snow field.
I was like a newborn deer playing ice hockey.
It took all of five seconds for the guys to realize I was the weak one in the herd. I fought it for a while, managing to struggle to my feet, only to lunge quickly to avoid an incoming snowball, falling flat on my face once again. A half-dozen kids circled around me, unloading snowballs at a furious pace. That’s when I learned the second rule of a snowball fight.
Pelting a guy loses its appeal when the pink bags stop flailing.
I spent the remainder of the match curled in the fetal position, motionless, silent and still, largely unharmed. I had feared for my life, both social and physical, only to find that silly foot coverings weren’t a death sentence. And it wasn’t until I stopped fighting against my own shortcomings that the chaos cleared and peace found me.
‘Cuz we all have our pink bags. Our bulging midsections. Our old regrets. Some are worn for all to see. Some buried deep inside us.
The thing is, they are a part of us. Part of God’s design. Beauty in the mess. To deny all of our junk is to deny the divine in all of us. We have to give in. Embrace the different.
Our snowball fight came to an abrupt end that day. Someone got smacked in the face with a perfectly thrown ball and started crying. In that moment, the warlords turned into nurse maids, trying to quiet the kid down lest we get busted for playing too rough. But it was no use. Someone’s mom came out and shut it down.
The physical activity came to stop. Several kids started feeling wet and cold, and chose to go home. Barry and I took that as our cue. We set off toward my house.
The walk home along Carriage Dive was a few hundred yards down a slight incline. I got a running start and headed toward the street. There, the snow was packed hard. I leapt off the curb and landed solidly. When my feet hit, Mary Kay worked her magic. I slid faster than anyone in moon boots could have dreamed. Half way to my front door without even taking a step.
Still feeling warm.