When I was a kid, until I was around 10 years old, my family (Mom, Dad, little brother John and an occasional aunt or uncle) and I lived in the upper flat of a two-story house on Bird Avenue between Niagara Street and West Avenue in Buffalo.
For a kid growing up it was a great neighborhood … vacant lots nearby to explore and play in, low garage roofs to climb up on and run across, pipe railings to walk and swing on, lots of space for playing Hide and Seek, Red Rover and Relieve-E-O, and old Belle Miland had a tiny store on Niagara Street where we could get our pop and candy. But best of all, there were plenty of other kids to do it all with.
One winter day my three best friends and I built a snow fort in my front yard. It was a great fort and we would pair up and take turns attacking and defending it; slinging snowballs until our arms gave out. Great fun for a while, but eventually we got tired of throwing snowballs at each other and decided it would be even greater fun to throw them at passing vehicles. (Don’t try this at home.)
Bird Avenue wasn’t a very busy street so there was the infrequent car or delivery truck that we would pelt from the protection of our fort, but it was also the end of the line and turnaround spot for the Michigan-Forest IRC bus. What a super target!
Impatient but diligent, by the time we saw the bus turning onto Bird from West Avenue we had an arsenal of snowballs waiting. We peppered that bus from front to back and top to bottom as it came down the street.
It was just a fluke of timing and most unfortunate that the driver slid back his side window to yell at us just as the last snowball sailed through like a laser-guided missile and caught him full in the face. He slammed on the brakes and I swear the bus was still sliding into the curb as he came running around the back after us.
I say us, but by the time he got to where I was standing my “best friends” had disappeared into thin air.
I still don’t understand how they could move so fast in those snowsuits and galoshes; I was rooted to the spot. With the snow melting off of his red face and his cap and glasses askew, he came charging across the street, screaming and yelling and demanding, with a few choice words, to know where I lived.
What could I do? I told him. Well, I didn’t actually tell him; I was so scared I couldn’t speak. But I pointed to my house and before I could blink he had me by the back of my snowsuit and was hauling me up the front stairs. I don’t think my galoshes touched a step.
I remember there was a lot of crying (by me) and apologizing (by me) and promises never to do anything like that again (by who else but me). And I know that after the bus driver had gone, I was grateful that there were no “utensils” handy, like wooden spoons, hairbrushes, belts or baseball bats.
I also remember being very grateful that my mother didn’t bother taking off my snowsuit before she started walloping my rear end.
Except for going to school every day at P.S. 19, I don’t think I was outdoors with my “best friends” again until spring – mudball season!