The first came in perhaps the second grade, maybe 70 years ago. At the public school I attended, there was one "gang" -- a kind of club which, like other clubs, relied in part for its definition to the people it excluded. It was good to belong to the "gang," the in-crowd, and saddening not to. Glasses and freckles and girls, perhaps, qualified for exclusion.
But one day, bolstered at home by Pete Seeger's Almanac Singers and the willingness to fight the good labor fight on vinyl records, I gathered all those who were outside the gang and challenged the gang to a snowball fight in the school parking lot during recess. There was a great mound of plowed snow and we made our stand on top of that heap. We may have been outgunned by numbers, but we had the virtue of the underdog (in my mind) and we had elevation. These, I imagined, would see us through to a victory that would leave the gang in the shade.
Only of course it didn't. Once the fight started, it was clear that recess could not end soon enough. Virtue and all, we got clobbered. When it was all over, the kids with freckles, glasses, physical challenges and verifiable stupidities remained excluded. The gang was intact.
Some years later, in the 6th or 7th grade at a boarding school of some 50 students, a group of the best arms available (twelve of us perhaps) challenged the rest of the school to a snowball fight. We had built fortifications up near a wonderful drift. We had laid in pre-made snowballs. We felt confident the best arms could flatten the mere rabble.
Well oops again: What seemed like the entire rest of the school (including teachers) turned out to meet our challenge. The best arms were not good enough for the seething numbers. We got clocked. It was a kind of precursor to the Vietnam war at a time when most of us had never heard of Vietnam.
What wondrous visions and hopes I brought to those snowy battles. What should happen surely would happen. Only it didn't, and looking back, what shudders me worst is the recognition that such good lessons should be blithely ignored as time passed and decency and virtue still sang their siren song.
Sometimes I wish I'd turned out smarter, but it's too late now.