Janet Sheridan: Learning life lessons from King of the Hill
Two years ago during Christmas break, I walked by Sunset’s playground and saw children playing the rambunctious melee, king of the hill, on an icy mound of snow; and I was young again.
I whooped with excitement as my friends and I charged a heap of dirty snow, where a classmate stood, bellowing, “I’m the king of Bunker Hill. I can fight and I can kill.” They were dreadful words, true, but what fun to storm the hill en masse, slipping, sliding and crawling upward, hoping to topple the king who tried to kick our heads and stomp our fingers. When lucky, we grabbed the king’s legs or plowed into him from behind, causing him to stagger, and even as we pulled him down, we struggled with one another, each of us wanting to claim his throne.
Being notoriously slow to move quickly toward an opportunity, I rarely fought my way into the void created by a fallen king, but when I did, I gloried in my royalty.
We loved the boisterous game, because no one could dominate the hill for more than a few minutes, so everyone had a chance to be crowned, however briefly. A swarm of lesser players could take down the biggest, toughest sixth-grade boys, even those who swore, spit and sassed the principal. And a determined fourth-grade girl could stand on the pinnacle to issue the battle cry at the top of her lungs.
King of the hill also exposed me to a lesson life teaches us: No matter how good we are at what we do, we rarely stand atop a hill by ourselves for long. We play, work and compete with those as good — or better — than we, and they sometimes surpass us. As my uncle Gus, a celebrated college basketball player and coach, used to say, “There’s always someone better coming along, kiddo.”
Over the years, I’ve spent time in the valleys, hung out in the foothills and, on occasion, soared to the summit; but each time I excelled, sooner or later, someone better came along and sent me somersaulting down the mountain.
One summer, my friend Charlie and I worked at Cal-Pac, a company that canned produce grown in Utah Valley. We stood on each side of a short conveyer belt, grabbed ears of corn spewing from a chute and fitted them into slots on a belt, which whizzed by faster than my dad ate pancakes. Along with the women working the other belts, we filled as many slots as possible, yelled an occasional comment and watched the clock.
Before the lunch buzzer sounded on our first day, our boss, Monica, came by, studied two mechanisms at the end of the belt, raised her penciled eyebrows until they reached her hairnet, made a notation on her clipboard and moved on.
During lunch, she appeared again and said I’d loaded more corn than any one else that morning. Wow! The rest of the day, my face contorted with effort, I flung my arms about like blades on a propeller, hoping to retain my lofty status. And did so. That night, I fell into bed twisted like a pretzel, my arms cramping despite two aspirin and a hot water bottle.
I kept my title again the next three days in an agony of whirring belts, cascading corn, cramping fingers, mental anguish and muscles in death throes. Then, after a pain-ridden night, during which my younger sister shook me awake and said if I didn’t stop moaning, she’d put a pillow over my head, another worker — Charlie! — ended my reign as king of the hill for the rest of the canning season.
I told myself she was faster over the long haul because, seven inches shorter, she was closer to the belt and her little arms didn’t have as much muscle to ache, but my conscience said she corralled corn better because she had more quickness and stamina.
Uncle Gus knew what he was talking about.
Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at auntbeulah.com on the first and 15th of every month.