Bill Chapin has spent much of his life in the snow. . .too much.
ILLUSTRATION: DARREN THOMPSON
Last Laugh shares MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader submitted American humor with other readers.
American Humor and Winter Snow
I have always had an affinity for snow. I think it all started with maple syrup snowballs. Southern Vermont, where I lived as a kid, was littered with maple trees, including three stately giants that reared up from the front lawn. And if you have maple trees in Vermont, you have to tap them, if only to establish your credentials. We tried to tap, but despite much finessing and jimmying, at most we produced about three gallons of syrup each year. We were not very good tappers.
It was enough to make maple syrup snowballs, however. The process is simple: You mold a nice firm ball of a size that would look comfortable on a pool table, then drip the syrup into it until it is saturated—don't skimp. Then bite. Ambrosia. Worthy of Maxim's of Paris ...at least we thought so.
Snowballs, of course, are versatile. You can sneak them under the blankets of your younger brother just before he goes to bed. You can bunker into the side of a roadway and mortar passing cars and bicyclists. And if your comrade in arms becomes a bit too complacent, you can always reinstill a little alertness with one. They carry a uniquely personal message.
There's a limit to the number of maple syrup snowballs you can eat, Maxim's notwithstanding. So sliding was next. My sled was state of the art: a Flexible Flyer. This was a beautiful vehicle. It went where you guided it, and that's just as well, because not long after I got it I slid down the hill opposite the farmhouse and right underneath the soft underbelly of a Guernsey cow, forelegs to the left, hind legs to the right. Didn't touch a hair, and the cow didn't even look down. Cows are dreamy beasts, and what was she doing out in the winter snow anyway?
I missed the cow, but I hit the fence once. This was truly dumb. It was a wooden rail fence at the bottom of a gentle slope near the barns. I said to myself, "I bet I can slide under that thing," and I took off. BONG! My head hit the lowest rail and the sled, feeling liberated, slid right out from under me and kept going, into the meadow where it did a little dance. It's fortunate that I was wearing a heavy woolen cap; without it, I would now be more addlepated than I actually am. Calculus, which I studied later in life, would have been out of the question. It's also fortunate that no one saw me; otherwise it would have become part of my permanent driving record.
Skiing was next, the ultimate as far as I was concerned. The only way to be "one with the snow."
I began with the most primitive of equipment. Simple wooden staves without steel edges. No ski poles. Bindings were no more than leather loops. Ski boots?
Don't be silly. Galoshes
were more like it. Fuzzy woolen clothes that, when I fell, gathered up so much snow that I looked like a yeti.
I couldn't turn. I shoved my galoshes into the loops and pointed the skis straight down. If I were headed for a tree (or a barn) I had to push the eject button and just fall. Certain physical assets on my body grew quickly accustomed to falling.
But I got pretty good at skiing. I graduated to much better equipment when I made the Dartmouth ski team. You can look it up. I was on the "B Squad:" Honesty compels me to say that the "B Squad" at Dartmouth was not unlike the practice squad for the Green Bay Packers ...we took the beatings and the "A Squad" got all the attention from the local women. My best event was slalom. My worst event was jumping. It was typical of me, when I jumped, to land on the flatand I mean the flat at the top of the hill ...not the one at the bottom.
Nevertheless, I was better than any of my three siblings. One New Year's Day I gave them, and two friends of my sister's, a species of ski lessons near Mendon, Vermont. Very easy slope and all that. Standing at the top, leaning over my poles in the manner of every hotshot instructor, I was distracted for a moment by an extravagant blonde woman. Lost in the reverie, I turned and saw every single one of my first students on the ground, flailing around in the snow, skis waving like the antennae of smitten insects. By the time they were right side up again, it was time to go back inside.
Pico Peak had one very steep schuss. And I mean steep. On the very last day that I skied, before going off for a stint in the military, something spectacular. . . earthshaking was in order. A personal manifesto. I stood at the top of that schuss with a stranger with a movie camera standing next to me. He asked:
"Why don't you take it straight?"
I'd never done that. I'd never seen anyone do that. I said, "Sure," point ed my skis toward the foot of the hill, and shoved off. Halfway down, I became airborne. When I landed again, the tips of my skis dug into the snow and my head carved a strip mine into the mountain. The rest of the trip was a series of spectacular a cartwheels. Unhurt, dizzy, covered with ` snow, I looked up. My pal held his camera aloft and shouted: "I got it! I got it all!"
The army never knew what hit it.
Editor's Note: Do you have a distinctive bit of regional American humor you think MOTHER's readers should hear about? If so, send it to Last Laugh, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Hendersonville, NC. We'll pay $10 for any joke we publish (that we didn't know already!).