Once I had learned the skill of snowball making, I went on to the art of throwing one. This was aided by the family dog, Tippy (this terrier-mix had all dark fur except for the very end of her tail, which was white. Get it? The tip of her tail was white = Tippy. The siblings and I thought it was quite clever.) This mutt loved the snow. If she saw snow when the back door opened, she bounded into the drifts that were twice her height. Only her head and back were visible as up and down Tippy went. She loved chasing sticks in the summer, and she loved chasing snowballs in the winter. She seemed to like each activity equally even though there was a great difference. I would frisbee a stick when there was no snow on the ground, and she would run after it and pick it up. She might run around with it for a bit, but soon she would come back to me, stick proudly in mouth. Sometimes she would drop it but more often stand just out of easy reach with a look that said, “Come on, dummy. See if you can grab that stick in my mouth.” I’d make a motion, and she would dart back. But either because I made an especially quick movement or, more likely, she let me, soon I would have a part of the stick not in her mouth. Now her look said, “Come on, dummy. See if you get it away from me.” The tugging war began, and the eight-year-old boy was seldom successful with brute force. Instead, I learned, and she did not (or she pretended not to), that if I lessened how forcefully I pulled, she lessened her pressure on the stick, and then a pull as rapidly as I could, got it away. And then she stood, partly looking at me and partly at the yard, indicating “Come on, dummy. Throw it again.”
Tippy invariably returned the thrown sticks; she never returned a snowball, but she chased them just as diligently. I would throw the snowball in the backyard. She would bound after it, find where the ball landed, and put her muzzle into the snow blanket. She would attempt to pick up the thrown object, but the ball no longer existed after it was chomped on. It metamorphosed back from snowball to mere snow.
Even though there was nothing to return, she returned and stood in front with the look, “Come on, dummy. Throw me another one.” And I would. I never outlasted her. She could be literally shaking from the cold, but she did not want to come in if there was a chance that I would toss another snowball.
For an eight-year-old boy, this was a time to practice throwing in preparation for my major league career that I knew awaited. First, of course, came throwing it as far as I could, but without clear demarcations in the yard it was hard to tell how much I was improving, although I never doubted that I was. Then, I would find a spot that I knew I could throw to and see how close I could come to landing the next snowball there. Then, even though it was not appropriate preparation for the National League, I would see how high I could throw it. That was for my own amusement. Tippy would lose sight of the high-thrown ball and look to see where it landed. If she did see it plop, she was off to chomp through it. Sometimes, she did not see where it landed, and she would turn to me with the look, “What the hell.” And, of course, there was the ever-fun fake throw where I did all of the throwing motion except for letting go of the ball. Tippy took a few steps in the direction of the anticipated flight, and then turned and said, “Oh, that’s very funny. Now throw it.” (This was minor preparation for my Milwaukee Braves career. I planned on playing shortstop where the fake throw would seldom be used, but I might on occasion fill in as pitcher, and I was practicing for that fake throw to third with the quick whirl to first base to see if the runner there fell for the charade. I have seen pitchers do this many, many times. Only once have I seen it work, and the runner looked more embarrassed than Tippy did after tussling with a skunk.)
(continued January 27)