The year was 1980 something…I grew up on one of the biggest neighborhood hills you’ve ever seen. Seriously, unless you’re from San Francisco, not much could compete with the hill on Colonial Drive in Sapulpa. The hill was so steep, the school bus driver refused to attempt it. Bill would let us off at the bottom and my sisters and I would wave goodbye to the Beyers and hike to the top along with the Willes. We didn’t mind at all. Snow meant one thing in my neighborhood. Sledding.
My earliest memories of sledding are somewhat terrifying. I remember the Flexible Flyer, that awesome and dangerous mix of wood and metal, my mom or dad laying on the sled with me on their back and their admonishment to “hang on tight.” More like hang on for dear life. The speed you could gather sliding down that hill was breathtaking. And the more sleds that traversed it, the more packed the snow became. Not to mention if the snow melted off slightly, then refroze overnight, those tracks turned into unnavigable ice.
As we got older, we were allowed to sled alone or with a sister on board. My parents, perhaps because they got older, too, waved goodbye to us in the morning and told us to be back for lunch. It felt like sheer freedom to wade through the snow to the top of our hill and join all the other neighborhood kids.
We created sled trains, linking our Flexible flyers to each other by slipping the toes of our snow boots into the space between the metal frame and the wooden crossbar of the sled behind ours. We made trains up to ten sleds long and took turns leading them.
If one of the older neighbor boys led, invariably he would start swerving halfway down the hill, causing the few sleds on the end to swing wildly out of control until legs and toes could no longer contain the force and sleds catapulted up the bank on one side or, for the unlucky ones, the deep ditch on the other.
On one such snow day, I joined a train like this and convinced Natalie to join me. I was in third grade and greatly enjoying the break from Mrs. T.C.’s class. Natalie was a kindergartner who still trusted her older sister. Big mistake.
The oldest kids often went first on the trains since being the leader was the coveted spot. The leader decided if the train would swerve and how often, with the added bonus of an uninhibited view of the hill on the way down. A third grader was not nearly old enough to win that spot. Natalie and I took our position close to the end of the train with only Elizabeth, a first grader, behind us.
“Hold on tight,” I told Natalie as the sled train began to move. I put my hands on the snow covered road and paddled like a surfer, every kid doing the same to build our momentum. But with nine sleds and riders, it didn’t take long to gain speed. Soon we were bucking and weaving down that hill and Natalie and I were hanging on for dear life. I felt my leg muscles burning as Elizabeth’s sled swung behind us. I couldn’t keep my feet in position and finally released her sled, hearing her scream as the next curve swept her into a snow bank. I gripped my sled and hoped the kid in front of us would do better. We nearly made it.
We passed my neighbor’s house, whose steep property dropped off quickly into a deep ditch and ended in a frozen pond. The neighbors hated any sledding on their property, which always added to the thrill if you accidentally swung into their ditch or skidded out of control into the trees and pond.
I relaxed my grip a little as we passed safely by. Then the train curved one last time and I saw the pair of boots tucked into my sled lift up. I wrestled with the wooden crossbar, trying to keep my flyer on the icy road, but we skidded across the car tracks and onto the Gearheart’s driveway. And right off the other side.
A three foot drop greeted us and we thudded into the ditch. Natalie flew off my back into the snow. I landed on the sled but rolled off. I gasped and sucked icy air into my lungs, a sharp reminder I was alive. Then the smell hit me. The snow beneath me had turned to a brown sludge and the stench that rose from it reminded me of the septic tank when it overflowed. I stood up shakily and realized I was soaked in the goo.
Natalie was sniffling and had a cut on her shin. I was also banged up. Shouts greeted us from the road top. My other sisters and neighbors had finally thought to check on us and see if we’d survived. They surveyed us silently as we trekked out of the ditch, bloody and poo covered. Then Michael, the sled train leader, guffawed and the others followed. I tried to collect my dignity and hauled the sled with one hand and my sister with the other all the way back up the hill to home.
We were back on that hill the next day.
Images courtesy of Poulsen Photo, Suat Eman, and franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net