methow grist 2011-2014 archive

Rock-Throwing King

By far, my favorite pass-time while growing up in the Methow was throwing rocks. My very first memory of throwing a rock was when I was four years old. My brother Dawane, a friend of ours and myself were in an alley in Spokane, and our friend dared me to throw a rock through a window in a garage that sat just off the alley. I don't know if he was joking or just wanted to see if I would do it, but I didn’t hesitate; I bent over, picked up a rock and threw at the window. It was a perfect shot. The glass shattered and I was in a familiar kind of trouble when my folks found out. Still, after the well-deserved discipline was dished out and as I sat in a corner of the house facing the wall, I had a smile on my face. After all, it was a perfect shot and I was quite proud of myself.

I won’t tell you about every rock throwing experience I can recall, and I won't tell you how I got two of the four scars on my head or about the split lip or the chipped tooth. Wait, maybe I will tell you some: I do cherish those memories. But I will definitely tell you about the undisputed rock-throwing king of the Methow Valley.

Our old barn sat close to the Methow River. Brother Dawane and I would spend a lot of our free time there fishing, swimming or throwing rocks at tree limbs we would toss into the river.

Just across the river from the barn was Gardner Island. It was a tall jag of rock that jetted out of the river splitting the river around it. We called it Gardner Island as the Gardner family owned the land on that side of the river.

On occasion, the Gardner boys, Steve, Duane and Dennis, would be on the their island and we would have a rock-throwing war. I personally got hit in the left cheek once and my head split open another time. I think it was that they were on that side of the river and we were on our side of the river that made it such a natural place to wage war. I don't recall how the wars got started; it may well have been that I pitched the first rock. I loved to throw.

The wars would go on for 10 or 15 minutes, and if you got hurt--depending on how bad--you just removed your self from the field of battle until you could shake off the pain, then re-entered the field of battle to score a hit or get re-injured. I didn’t say it was smart but boys will be boys and while young girls played with their dolls (yes, a very sexist remark) we waged war with rocks and we were Spartans!

Dawane and I also waged war with walnuts as we had three large black walnut trees by our driveway. If you hit your target hard enough that the outer husk came off the walnut at impact, it was considered a great hit. But I digress, for this story is about the throwing of rocks and the undisputed rock-throwing king of the Methow Valley.

It was the start of little league season and about fifteen of us gathered in the park next to the Winthrop barn and waited for the coach to show up at the baseball field across and just down the road from the park. We all had our baseball mitts and some of us were playing catch with rocks (which is how my front tooth got chipped).

Garry Wise showed up with a sling he had made out of some leather shoe strings and a patch of leather that made a pouch for the rock to sit in. Soon all of us were gathering rocks for Garry to throw with his sling. He was slinging the rocks over the street and up the hill across from the park. He was getting them up there quite a ways when someone asked (and I plead the fifth) if he could throw a rock over the house at the top of the hill. Now, that's a fair distance, but Garry thought he could, so we all set about gathering rocks and presented them to Garry.

Garry surveyed all the open hands with rocks in them, carefully examining one then another. You could see great pride in each boy then letdown as Garry inspected then rejected his rock. Finally, Garry found a nice round rock of just the right size and weight. He placed it in the pouch of his sling and we all gave him room.

Garry started spinning his sling round and round. You could hear the whirr of the sling as it made each revolution, its sound increasing in pitch as faster and faster it went. One could see a continuous ring of the leather pouch that contained its weighty projectile.

Then Garry made a step forward and with a mighty grunt released the rock with a forward fling of his arm. Fifteen sets of eyes were glued to the rock as it made its assent. Silent we were, every boy willing the rock in its upward flight. The rock climbed in a lofty ark. Covering an impossible distance, sailing to an impossible height flying up in slow monition and flying right through the window of the house at the top of the hill.

Fifteen boys we stood in the park, and fourteen paths to invisibility we took. I say fourteen for Johnny Dabritz, the son of the minister of the church in Heckendorn, stood alone and did not waver. He then yelled out that the coach had arrived at the baseball diamond and all the boys ran for the diamond.

Now, I don't know the layout of the house at the top of the hill, but rumor was the rock went through the window and landed in the kitchen sink as the lady of the house was washing dishes. That works for me: I can visualize her astonishment that a rock had fallen out of the sky and landed in her sink. It does justice to the legend.

If Garry had spun his sling maybe one or two more times or flung the rock a little harder it would have cleared the house as it only needed to be another ten feet higher. Sure it was unfortunate the rock went through the window, but things haven’t changed: I’m still like the four-year-old boy I was, sitting in the corner of my folks house with the smile on my face and this story is about the accuracy of the shot.

And that shot is how and why Garry Wise is the undisputed rock-throwing king of the Methow Valley.

My name is Steven C. Johnson; just a man who sat in front of his keyboard and fell head-first into the abyss of my own fertile memory.


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I too recall the incident and can add a little. This was probably in the spring of '64 or '65 (before '66 because that's
when we moved away). I did stay when the group evaporated into the cottonwood saplings behind the park, almost before the glass had fallen. One other member quickly reversed their retreat and returned to stand with me. Don't
remember who.

Almost immediately a rather red-faced and angry Harold Bowers (if memory serves) came boiling down the hill on foot from his newly ventilated house. He was a remarkable communicator and didn't hesitate to confide in us his innermost feelings with utter clarity (and we were just a couple of neighborhood urchins!)

Lest he reiterate in a more corporal manner, we allowed as how we didn't send the rock and described how it had come about, who had done it and that the house was never the target.

I don't recall the call that the coach had arrived. Must have had other things on my mind.

I believe that there were adult meetings afterward about how boys grouping at the park with time to kill before baseball practice wasn't a good idea. In general though, that was the end of the fallout for most of us.

John Dabritz
Portland, OR