Now that we finally have some snow on the ground we may be able use the new inflatable plastic/rubber snow tubes that were under the tree; a very big change from the sleds or toboggans of my childhood. They lack any steering apparatus, but you can ride down the hill in cushioned comfort. Some changes are easier on the body than others.
Several sliding conveyances have coasted through my life, leaving their tracks. My first memory of sliding was at “Leonard’s Hill.” It was across the highway and Dad used to take us there. I don’t know that anyone ever asked for permission, but often on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon (or during Christmas vacation) you would find five or six cars parked along the county road on top of the hill.
Dressed in boots that covered itchy wool socks, two pairs of patched pants, bulky coats that fit over layers of sweaters and sweatshirts, scratchy scarves wrapped tightly around the face and neck, stocking hats to keep the head warm and dry, with mittens clipped to coats kids would climb out of station wagons and pull sleds, saucers and toboggans out of the back.
The sleds, “Flexible Flyers,” had metal runners and a wooden platform. They were supposed to steer, but it was rather an unreliable method. During one memorable run down that hill my sister, Colleen, and I had our faces cut up when we lost control of our sled on an icy spot. On another day I watched my brother, Terry, lose his hat half-way through an involuntary air-born flip on a saucer.
Before the roads were paved Dad would pull us around the neighborhood behind the car. I’m not sure Dad had his seatbelt on, and we certainly weren’t wearing any helmets – considered very dangerous now. The rolling hills that bordered our town and the wooded ravines which opened inside the city limits provided many sledding sites.
Below the hill, a half-mile from our house, was Goetz’s farm. When conditions were right I could walk to the end of our block and slide on the road almost the whole way. There in the woods above the old brewery was “Runaway,” a wild sliding run named by the boys who lived below the hill from my house. It took some skill and luck to make it all the way to the bottom. Shari, a neighbor girl, broke her arm on a tree when she missed a turn on this hill.
Across town was a deep ravine near my friend Jim’s house. In junior-high we spent many hours sliding down there with our heads covered with long tasseled stocking hats or something borrowed from Frosty and his legion of snow men. Those long runs and long days seemed to last forever.
Somewhere along the line, plastic began to replace wood and metal in sled construction, and then during high school I put away the sleds for snowmobiles, skis and a Chevette. It wasn’t until many years later that I rediscovered the joy of sliding with my children. About that time I went to Mom and Dad’s house and grabbed the old flyer off the garage wall.
I pulled my two kids around on it for trick-or-treating in 1991 before most of the twenty-nine inches fell. We replaced the steel and wood sled with a series of cheap plastic models after Jennifer, my daughter, and I hit a bump on a steep hill behind our house and the sled hit her in the face. The snow angels protected her from harm greater than a big bruise. I carried the sled and a very unhappy little girl up the hill.
Jennifer is now a happy, married young woman and the sled has made tracks to her house. There was a day when that sled flew down the hills, but now it sits quietly in her yard; a gift to decorate her home during her first Christmas out of our house. Some changes are harder on the body than others.