I was there. I threw some of the snowballs. I know what happened.
Hold that thought for a moment.
So it was that, just before I entered 10th grade, Dad was assigned as the Air Force Liaison Officer to 7th Army headquarters, and we moved to Stuttgart, Germany.
It was there, on a wintry Saturday night, that I threw the aforementioned snowballs. Specifically, at a passing car.
Winters at Patch Barracks, the Army post where we lived, were harsh. Lots of snow, lots of plowing, lots of ammunition for snowball fights. It was a commonplace activity among us kids.
Early on, we learned to assess each snowfall by the type of snow it produced. We understood that wet snow is better than dry snow because the snowballs pack more easily and are heavier.
I mention this because, on the Saturday in question, the snow on the ground was a dry snow. The snowballs we made that day were so lightweight and ineffective that your opponents hardly bothered to duck.
Why a friend and I were still outside after dark throwing snowballs at cars, I don’t remember. We had spent most of Saturday at play around the post, and, for whatever reason, the fun continued into the evening.
The two of us crouched behind a row of hedges near the entrance to the family housing for officers. When a car drove by, we let fly with a few snowballs. They would skip off the roof, or plow into a side or rear window, always exploding harmlessly into powder.
I should mention that we never snowballed a car unless it had American license plates. This was the late 1950s, only a decade after the end of World War II. In those days, it would have been imprudent to assail a passing German.
Sometimes, the driver would tap the brakes or the horn, but no one stopped. Clearly, it was just harmless fun by some silly kids.
We, meanwhile, had ducked back behind the hedges to have a good laugh and make more snowballs.
But, eventually, as fate would have it, our luck ran out.
This time, when we pelted the passing sedan with a volley of snowballs, the driver braked suddenly and stopped. The door flew open. A man emerged in a huff.
“Hey, you kids!” he yelled angrily, “You broke my window!”
He stood behind the vehicle, pointing to the rear window. “Look what you did! I heard it crack!”
My friend and I looked at each other. Those snowballs weren’t capable of breaking glass.
Moreover, as the car had passed from left to right, the snowballs struck the side of the car, not the rear. That, I knew with certainty.
This guy was lying. He was trying to dupe a couple of kids into paying for a window that was broken under other circumstances.
And the scheme was working. We were nailed and defenseless, and we knew it.
Meekly, my friend and I came out from behind the hedge. We stood there under the streetlight as the man, a Sergeant First Class of about 40, fumed dramatically about the situation. Then he instructed us to fetch a parent.
I went back to our apartment and found Dad. On the way back to the scene of the alleged crime, I managed to lay out the true facts. Dad told me to keep quiet and let him handle things.
Dad listened in silence to the sergeant’s account of the incident. He didn’t defend us or offer an apology. He presented his contact information and told the man to send him the bill.
On the way back to the apartment, Dad told me he knew the sergeant by reputation. He said the scam the guy pulled was not surprising.
The subject of throwing snowballs at cars did not come up.
Some weeks later, I asked Dad if he had received a repair bill from the sergeant. He had, indeed, and the bill was paid.
“But,” he added with a sly smile, “I got even with him.”
At that, I came out of my chair. This was huge. I was desperate to hear the details.
But, in spite of my best pleading and whining, Dad would not explain.
“Son,” he said, “I’d rather not say. We’ll just let it be my secret.”
Once or twice in later years, I mentioned the incident and tried to get Dad, finally, to come clean.
He never did.