A Wild Ride on a Runaway Slide
When was a child, as soon as snow began to layer itself into a depth, my friends and I would hit the slopes for sliding.Skip to next paragraph
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The first thing we'd do is dress for the battle of the hill. Putting on clothes for sliding was like putting on armor. We'd strap on a breastplate of wool or down, slip thick gauntlets over our hands, push our feet into heavy sollerets of leather or rubber, and crown our heads with a heaume of fur.
Thus accoutered, we'd stride forthrightly (if squatly) up the back of the great white beast, dragging behind us a toboggan or sled or a plastic orange flyer with yellow nylon rope handles. Or, if there wasn't money for these things, a lunch tray or a slab of cardboard. Anything to grease the skids to the bottom.
Sixth grade probably marked the last and best year of sliding in my life, because, as a 12-year-old, I could still be a kid. And I could be a kid at the top of his form, because the sixth-graders were the "big guys" in the elementary school.
Every kid in the neighborhood and for a radius of a half a mile would make for the nearest hill, and from a distance all one would see would be a slash of white, covered with dark moving dots. The crew I hung out with had a captain, a tall gawky boy named Albert who was a year or two older than we were. He went to a parochial school and had to wear a uniform, but in the evenings and on the weekends Albert would discard all that and organize us into activities.
When it came time for sliding, Albert would gather us together at my house, which sat closest to our favorite hill. We'd troop off, hauling one toboggan along with a motley fleet of sleds and plastic disks. Snacks were stuffed in our pockets. Our breath hung above us like cartoon balloons full of chatter in capital letters.
My house was perched on the edge of the second hole of the municipal golf course. The tee stood some 300 yards away down a straight fairway, at the foot of a hill capped by the rambling white clubhouse.
We took the country club road to the top, since walking through the snow down the fairway would have been work harder than we wanted to do.
But by the time we got there, kids swarmed everywhere. We did our runs, sharing our one toboggan with admirable ease because Albert kept the line moving and friction to a minimum.
After a few hours, we had become pretty thoroughly frozen. And, to be honest, it had gotten a little dull and annoying - having to dodge the two-year-olds who wandered into our flight paths or get around parents who dared to take their own hooting trip to the bottom.
ON the other side of the clubhouse, a much longer hill sloped downward, full of small moguls and a few copses of trees. The green for one of the back nine holes was at the bottom, and notched above the green 20 feet or so was a sand trap, its lips covered with unspoiled and never-touched-by-toboggan snow. Some people had made their way down. We could see their tracks, and right before the sand trap we could see the snow flung in all directions because someone had wiped out or bailed out just before he hit the takeoff. A perfect setup for the last run of the day.
Several of the gang had gone inside the clubhouse to get the free hot chocolate and use the bathroom, so four of us stood at the top of the hill, the tether of our toboggan in Albert's hand. We mapped our route, making a daring sweep near a tree (Albert planning for us how we'd have to lean to our right to catch the curve) and then heading for the trap, with the purpose of clearing it to the green.
Bob got in first, hooking his feet into either side of the curved prow. Then Alan and I jumped on, and Albert last. Because of his height, Albert could look over our heads and yell out instructions. With two good lurches we topped the rise and started down.