Rants from the Relic

Pank Aches Have you ever heard the word “Tump”...

Have you ever heard the word “tump?” It’s used as a verb in parts of the country where I’ve lived -- a portmanteau combining “tip” and “dump.” “We canoed down the Waxa-Woo-Much River last weekend and tumped over in the rapids -- you know, the one just downstream of that tavern south of Kudzu Holler.”
The first time I heard it, the meaning was obvious from its sound and the context. I thought it was quaint and descriptive -- a cute neologism.
Tump. When I first heard it, I thought of similar word that, as far as I know, is unique to Ely. It may have been unique to the time when I grew up in our mining town. I don’t know if it’s still used. But, let’s return to the days of radio dramas, to six-volt car systems, to walking home for lunch on school days, riding our bikes to Germik’s Creek to catch brook trout, getting kicked out of the State Theater by Mrs Swanson for giggling too much, and to squeezing the little red pill to turn the lard into oleo.
It’s a warm spring day, let’s imagine it’s about mid-April. You and eight other kids who all live on a two-block stretch on the west side are out on the street and sidewalk and boulevard (you know, that thin strip of grass that lies under the ridge of snow all winter) watching snow melt quickly into the gutter. The sun’s rays easily penetrate the huge, still leafless maples, and the blacktop street absorbs the energy and accelerates the melting. Some of you shovel the remaining snow from the boulevard onto the street to speed the process. Others toss shovelfuls of heavy snow into the gutter and the temporary stream running toward the catch basin slows uphill of the pile you’re forming. More snow is added and a thick line of wet snow is formed. The dam grows taller and the kidmade pond grows deeper at the edge of the street. A couple of future engineers move upstream a few dozen feet and build a smaller dam there allowing the original dam to be heightened and widened without being topped. More dams farther upstream. More engineering skills on display. The original dam gets further raised and widened. Lake Conan is forming.
Then water is released from the upstream dams one at a time until the stream becomes a mini-torrent that slams into the original snow marvel. But, oh no!, the big dam -- the one you built at the cost of icy, wet socks inside your rubber boots -- can’t take the impact on top of the pressure -- and it fails. A rapidly-widening gap allows millions, well dozens, of gallons of snow melt water to rush through.
But you look and see that most of the dam remains. A meeting is convened and a remedy is planned. Re-build the upstream dams and when we’ve allowed Lake Conan to drain to just a trickle, we’ll rebuild it. We’ll be smarter this time. We’ll not only shovel plenty of snow, we’ll PANK it. And there it is. Pank it. We’ll spank the snow to pack it. That will compress the snow and our dam will restore Minnesota’s 14,381st lake.
Five iron ore stained red shovels smacking down on the snow dam hardened this blockade. And the lake re-formed -- deeper and wider by the minute. We all watch as the kid from up the street waded in setting up the challenge to this industrious and adventurous group of grade-schoolers -- until some crabby motorist, unappreciative of the engineering genius involved in our project, ran over the dam. It yielded -- despite the thorough panking -- and Lake Conan and our fun went down the drain -- literally.
I doubt that we were the first Ely kids to pank wet snow with the back of a shovel nor the first to call it “panking.” But by doing so, we were thereafter spared the tedious phrase “using the back of a shovel to compress snow through repeating impacts” each spring.
Admittedly, this activity is likely not found in the rest of the world and thus neither is the word. A shame. It would be cool to have our town known as the originator of such a fine word.