The first snow of the season is always met with great anticipation. When snow first falls, it brightens up the drab landscape. It is also usually a bit sticky, which makes for good snowmen, snow forts and snowballs.
The joys of sledding are more marginal because it’s better to have icy rather than sticky snow. It was probably the sticky snow that once saved my life.
I could not have been more than four or five years old at the time. I lived on what was considered to be the top of a hill. It wasn’t really; the hill actually continued up a dead-end side street, but for cars and bicycles, it seemed like a hill. The street in front of our house cut through the hill, and across the street from us three homes had 45-degree slopes extending up 15 or 20 feet. For sledding purposes, they were a little short and a little steep, but at age 4, worked just fine.
It was a school day because the only two people out sledding were my best friend, also 4, whose yard it was, and I. Today, when I am getting more creaky, I marvel at the idea that we could slide down that hill, then run back up it and do it again. And again. And again.
Today, it would take half as many steps, twice as much time, and once would be enough, thank you.
We were having a great time, but after a while, we had worn the snow down to the grass in spots, so I ran over to the other side of the yard where the snow was still virgin.
As many 4-year-olds do, I was living in the moment, and hadn’t thought about why we were sliding on the other side of the yard originally.
The reason was parked at the bottom of the hill. It was a 1937-vintage Plymouth or Chevrolet. A sleek roadster, you don’t see them often at car shows or in parades. It’s as if automobiles began with Model T Fords and then leapfrogged to the tail-finned beauties of the 1950s and the muscle cars of the 1960s.
But they did make cars in the 1930s, and this black beauty had a running board to help climb in and out of it. The car had seen better days, and I don’t ever recall seeing my friend’s father driving it. In those days, he rode a bicycle to work, and the old car just sat by the curb — or would have if a curb had existed in those days.
But I wasn’t thinking about automobile design or whether or not the car would start. I was only thinking about the virgin snow. So I lay down on my sled head first, and pushed off, down the incline. A few seconds later I realized my mistake when my left eyebrow slammed into the running board of that old car.
I still remember being in pain, and instantly breaking into tears. My stocking cap must have been over the eyebrow because I did not bleed. My 4-year-old friend had the presence of mind to help me up and walk me home, me screaming all the way.
My mother took one look and decided that I was going to live. She produced some ice folded in a washcloth, and told me to hold it over my eye. I calmed down, and for the next couple of weeks had one of the classic shiners of all time, bruising all around the eye socket.
I don’t recall going to the doctor or getting an X-ray. Nor do I ever recall doing anything quite that stupid again. All I can say in retrospect is thank God for sticky snow. If I had really been motoring, the results could have been much more serious.
I did not lose my love of sledding, and undoubtedly had some close calls on other larger, steeper hills in later years. By then, of course, I had become better at steering or learned that at times it may be better to roll off the sled into the snow rather than come to a sudden stop against an immovable object.
Still, my brother, nine years older than me, likes to remind me upon occasion what a miracle it was that I made it to adulthood. In particular, he likes to bring up the time that he and a friend were throwing snowballs at passing cars. I came along, he says, thought it looked like fun, and joined them. However, the first car I nailed happened to be the high school principal’s.
I was of an age that I had no idea who that was, but my brother still claims he was 12 miles away by the time the principal got out of his car. Gratefully, I have no memory of the incident. Sticky snow can be a mixed blessing.
Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or by email at [email protected].