Tail Gunner’s Daughter: Chapter 3, Part 1

“Anything that hurts that much can’t possibly be fun.”  Ursula Dewey on snow skiing.

When I was eight Dad decided we should all learn to snow ski. He enrolled us in ski classes at Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade mountain range, and David and I were in a class together. The instructor was an eager young man who demonstrated how to turn his skis. He said, “This will also help you come to a complete stop, like this.” He showed us how to dig into the snow with the edges of our skis with the tips together while bending our knees. “It’s called snow plow,” he added.

Us would-be-athletes lined up in a row on the ski slope, waiting our turn. David was impatient, squirming and fidgeting, excited to get going. Finally, he shoved himself down the hill. We all watched, waiting for him to show off his snow plow skills, but he never did. He sped straight down the hill, no turns. I don’t recall what happened to him. For all I know, he was unable to stop and skied down to Seattle. The instructor said, “From now on we’ll call him racer.”


Diggin’ the Hostess Sno Ball stuck on my head. I think this picture was taken at Mission Ridge.

In contrast, I was all about form. I was going to master this snowplow thing. I started down the hill and landed in a solitary pig pile. Then I performed face plants, ass plants and leg splits. Other times my legs sprawled out on the snow with my skis pointing to the sky. I was getting the hang of this snow plow!

Mom had a different experience. Her bones and muscles ached so much after a couple of hours, she decided to sit in the lodge. “Anything that makes your body hurt that much can’t possibly be fun.” From then on whenever we went skiing, Mom sat in the lodge knitting Nordic sweaters, writing Christmas cards, and dolled out money to the four of us for hamburgers, French fries, and hot chocolate. Snow skiing burned through the calories and Mom’s purse.

Dad made sure we played in the snow even when there wasn’t any. One Christmas Eve while we all slept, Dad and Grandpa Harlan drove a big truck to Snoqualmie Pass and returned with a load of snow and dumped it on the front yard!

Even though it rained constantly in Seattle, it rarely snowed – until January, 1969 – when it snowed forty-five inches. Cars were free-styling down streets and piling up at the bottom of Queen Anne Hill. School was closed and the neighborhood was a war zone of rocketing snowballs. Apparently, I was the best target, especially for David. But when the rougher kids pelted me with snowballs akin to softballs, David yelled at them, and they accused him of treason.

“Hey, I thought you were on our side!” hollered Randy.

“She’s my sister. Only I’m allowed to beat up on her, not you guys.”

David was my hero, sort of. He was also a mad scientist and recruited me as a test subject for his twisted experiments. For example, when I was five, he took the lampshade off a burning lamp and pressed the light bulb onto my stomach, searing the skin. He wanted to see what it would do. He should have been a cattle rancher, because fifty years later I still have the brand. But to be fair, he regrets it, and he was only seven at the time.

Back to the snow storm. Every day snow kept falling, but dad needed to get to the warehouse. He fired up the Jeep Wagoneer and turned the wheel hubs to engage four-wheel drive, and drove all over Seattle scooping up employees. Mom said, “By the time he picks everyone up, it’ll be time to drive them all home again. He just wants to go four-wheeling.”

The snow fell hard, and by Saturday Seattle was shrouded in white. The evergreens frowned under the weight of the snow, but the kids were smiling – even the cranky ones. Who wouldn’t be? Dad brought out the yellow monster skiDoos and gave rides on Bigelow Avenue and up and around the little grassy island in the middle of the street. It was hard to tell who had more fun, Dad or the neighborhood kids.


I think that’s David giving a ride to either me, or a neighbor kid. The West’s house is the big one straight across the street.

Dad pulled a bunch of kids behind the SkiDoo in a sleigh that looked like a giant dog sled. Every time the sled turned over we laughed until we peed. The sled turned over more often when David was driving. Someone thought this activity was dangerous, because a police car plowed through the snow on Prospect Street and stopped in front of our house.

“How the hell did they get up here?” Dad said, half under his breath. The officers walked up to Dad and spoke to him just as David buzzed along Prospect street towing a sled full of screaming kids. David saw the policemen and stopped the roaring snow machine.

“Son, how old are you?” asked a policeman.

“Twelve?” David replied, as if he wasn’t sure.

The police warned Dad about driving snowmobiles on city property and lectured him about letting David drive. They told Dad to put away the snowmobiles.

“Yes, officers, I’ll put them away,” said Dad. The policemen drove away, and when they were out of sight Dad fired up the SkiDoo and gave rides to the kids who hadn’t had a turn yet. He had to be fair. And he didn’t tell the policemen “when” he’d put away the SkiDoos.

To be continued . . .



About Dana J. Dewey

I was a slow learner as a child and to overcome my fear of school, as an adult I attended many of them. I ended up with a master of science degree in counseling psychology and I'm a licensed mental health counselor who is passionate about mental health. This blog is about life, joy, and the pursuit of good mental health, and the eclectic way in which it's achieved. I'm blogging a memoir, The Tail Gunner's Daughter, and later, Parent-Able: Seven Strategies for Raising a Physically Disabled Child Without Going Insane.
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