Sunday, December 05, 2010

Knapsack 12-16 (or 12-9)

Notes From My Knapsack 12-16-10
Jeff Gill

Twelve Years Old in Granville  --  1850

[This is fourth in a series of stories called "Twelve Years Old in Granville," each set in a particular year from the perspective of a twelve year old, based on our local history with a bit of literary license to help the narrative along.]


The fortress was impregnable, of that they were all certain.


Perched on a spur of Prospect Hill, glowering over towards Mount Parnassus, the walls had steadily risen, lunch hour by lunch hour, during this last week of nightly snows and bright sunny (if frigid) days.


The boys of the upper form in the village school house said to each other that they were no colder out on the hillside, looking over Granville, than they were inside the gloomy brick chambers of the aged structure that peered south down the Lancaster Road.


Even the face of the sun, they said, the one carved into the keystone over the central arch of the lower market level, looked pinched with cold. They were happy to hoot past his stony, warmthless gaze, running outside after flying down the stairs from the third floor (the youngest scholars being on the second), and clambering along the hillside, working up behind the row of homes they now looked down the chimneys of.


Their mothers had called out "Dinner is ready!" over and over, echoing across the snowdrifts and backyards, finally giving up and eating their own luncheons in peace and quiet. Their boys would rather play than eat, and it wasn't as if they had anywhere else to get a bite before supper and bed.


Today, though, would be different. The week was ending, and while all the town could see their commanding location, that included the sworn foes of the public school lads: their counterparts enrolled at the Academy. Each considered the other faction beneath their notice, and either could not stop noticing the others' antics.


All week, the young men of the Academy on Elm Street looked up at Prospect Hill during their all too short (as they saw it) dinner break, and they had been planning.


No sooner had the dinner hour been declared than the Academy boys trotted quietly, but in a body, along Elm over to Pearl, then up the road until they were even with the heights the public school lads had fortified.


They worked their way along the slope on the east, just as the builders had side-stepped from the west to begin their redoubt. A fusillade of snowballs announced the public opening of hostilities, with the winner being the final resident of the fortress.


Flocks of flying snowballs all at once pelted the interior of the icy enclosure, and sharpshooters kept up a more targeted spatter of individual shots.


A rush of bodies from below, and the Academy crew suddenly filled the embrasures and openings, vaulting into the sacred precincts themselves. Those who built this stronghold were soon cruelly forced to retreat, under fire, uphill.


This state of affairs did not last long. The public boys plotted behind a handy hickory close to the brow of Prospect Hill, and shortly they charged down in two files, attacking with pockets filled by pre-made snow (or ice) balls.


Their pincer assault was not only successful, but continued on down the hill. Volley by volley the public school lads pressed their social so-called betters back, step by step, until they made their final stand on the public square itself.


One o'clock, then two o'clock passed, with even the teachers as well as parents watching with smiles that almost seemed to indicate approval.


By three o'clock, the lack of lunch, the presence of ice fragments within the snowy spheres, and general weariness began to slow down everyone. Suddenly, as if by a prearranged plan, a number of parents and pastors emerged from behind the broader tree trunks nearby, and declared "a truce." The occasional bloody cheek or brow bore witness to the prudence of this enforced diplomacy.


Four hours of snowball warfare may have seemed too short to some, but it was as long as such an epic could unfurl, for a crowd of twelve year olds who really needed to get home and help get ready for supper.



[This tale of the greatest snowball fight the village may have ever seen is from Dr. Horace Bushnell's "History of Granville, Ohio," while the keystone from the school can be seen in the Granville Historical Society museum.]

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