The fire feels good, doesn’t it? How’s that coffee?
Let’s see, where was I….
The king of all sledding memories is “Jesse’s Hill”. Remember that hill on the road that I was at with the horse just before he bolted for home? At the top of that hill on the left was Jesse’s house (a kid about my brother’s age), and just to the right of the house was a big double hill that we would sled on every winter. The second part of it was steeper than the first, so by the time we hit the bottom of it, we were screamin’ fast! The first winter we were there, he and some other neighborhood kids had a snow ramp built at the bottom of the double hill. Man, you flew down that hill! So you wanted to hit the ramp just right.
The problem was, as you were sledding down the hill and trying to keep your trajectory in line with the ramp, there was something we called “The Tree” just to the right of the sled track that had huge thorns all over it–the “wait-a-minute” variety that grab you upon impact and say, “Wait a minute. This is really going to hurt.” (This was the kind of tree that inspired classic kid tales that were passed down from one neighborhood kid to the next: “Hey, did you hear about Johnny? He was sledding down Jesse’s Hill the other day and The Tree got him! I heard he had a thorn in his nose like an African tribesman and they had to remove another one from his skull with pliers.”)
Then, at the bottom of the hill on the far side of the ramp was a built-in momentum-stopper which consisted of a small grove of one-inch diameter sumac trees. These trees would stop you in your tracks should you fail to apply every extremity as a brake (this is, of course, after you have successfully launched yourself from the ramp, all the while keeping a wary eye upon that sumac grove because too much time airborne meant you were definitely having some quality time with the sumac grove).
My fondest memory of Jesse’s Hill is when Jesse himself went down. We were all watching the pro himself in action as he sat in his faithful plastic red toboggan and expertly guided his sled down the double hill to the ramp below. He used his hands and body weight to steer it, going straight passed The Tree and on to the ramp. Then, at the last second he lost control–or realized he was already going too fast and was taking evasive action to avoid the sumac grove, which means he lost control–and treated us to a scene that still plays out in my mind 30+ years later:
As he met the ramp, it launched his body one way and the sled another, just like a “V”. His body went left, visible to us as a small snow-suited figure flying through the air in spread-eagle fashion, his hat and mittens cast off just like a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon, while his sled went the other way in a beautiful arch, both landing about the same time. Once the snow settled, he just lay there, probably assessing any damage to his extremities, making sure everything is where it should be and trying to determine what went so catastrophically wrong. We wanted to go see if he needed any help, but we were unavoidably detained due to all of us laughing so hard that we had already peed our snowsuits and had frozen tears forming on our faces (in fact, I think a couple of us had collapsed in the snow due to laughter exhaustion). He eventually made it back up the hill, and once again, all was well in the kid-dom of sledding.
Well, friend, it looks like the fire has died down. I appreciate you taking the time to join me on these romps through some interesting memories. It’s getting colder out here, so I’m going to turn in. Meet me back in this clearing.
And bring your snowshoes….you’re going to need them.
Since we’re walking through snow, let’s talk about that favorite kid-dom pastime of sledding.
I remember having an orange saucer sled at one time, at another time a red plastic toboggan that you steered by your body weight, and most sledding memories revolve around a wooden toboggan sled with metal runners (which I still have in the garage). This one was loose enough in the center of the front wooden cross-piece that you could steer it by pressing your feet (or hands) left or right.
We owned about ten acres behind our house–about 6 of it field, the other 4 woods. There were a couple of pretty decent sledding hills hidden back there. One was along the edge of our woods and a plowed-up corn field right next to it (if you can picture looking from our backyard to the woods, the corn field would have been on the left of our property and the gravel pit to the right). There were oak trees along this stretch of woods at the bottom of the hill. What made this hill worth sledding down was after an ice storm. There was plenty of open snow-covered corn field to steer the metal toboggan down the hill, swinging the sled wide to the right so that I was headed straight for the ice-covered oak leaves that still hung heavy on the oak branches along the edge of the woods. I’d crash through the leaves at what felt like 30 mph (couldn’t have been more than 29 though) and it sounded just like shattering glass! That was saweet!
The other hill hidden in the woods was tricky. If you didn’t steer the metal sled right, you were kissing a tree trunk. But that’s what a kid lives for, right? I remember one time suddenly finding myself off the sledding trail, sticking my foot out to try to stop my momentum and finding that I planted my foot against a small tree trunk. Oh, I stopped alright, but I found that I was suddenly listening to what my kneecap was saying, since it was right up by my ear. I walked away from that with nary a pulled groin muscle (but did have the sudden ability to have twice the distance covered in my stride on one side more than the other).
Then there was a small hill to the left of that big barn that was right next door to our house (the one that eventually had horses boarded there that you heard about already….ahem). There was an electrified barbed-wire fence that surrounded the paddock/pasture area behind the barn. The front corner of that paddock area, just inside the fence, almost always had standing water–disgusting when you think about it, but that also meant that it froze over every winter. Well, my brother and I found that if we took a shovel and cleared off a five-foot wide path on the ice inside the fence, there was a good 25 yards of it just begging to see a sled. So, with our trusty metal toboggan, we would sled down the hill, at the last second dropping ourselves onto our backs like an Olympic bobsled runner to sled under the electrified barbed wire (which would zing passed our faces a safe 6 inches–or maybe a safe 4 inches–it was somewhere in that “safe zone”), out onto the ice and coast for miles and miles!
Not to cut this short, but if you look over your left shoulder, you’ll notice that the sun will be setting soon. There is a nice clearing just ahead that I’m going to set my tent in. Meet me there in a bit and I’ll have a fire going with some coffee to warm you up. Then we’ll continue this conversation….
By the way, here is the solution to my 5th grade two-minute mystery (remember, it’s the original unabridged version):
Obviously she couldn’t see the man get into his car. The fog was too thick! She let him look into her house and he found the dog in the back yard.