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.