March 20, 2015

The Sledding Hill

So many of my childhood memories blur together in my head. Summer is one long camping trip where we fished in a river in Montana in the morning and got chased by water moccasins in a Texas lake after lunch and visited the Trail of Tears museum before dinner. I have a hard time separating out what happened when or even where. I see it in my children too. It's the reason that Briton will occasionally start a sentence with, "When we lived in Paris...." We didn't live in Paris, we visited Paris when we lived in Dublin. But to Briton, at 3, a week in a tiny apartment in Paris with his beloved Thomas trains covering the carpet was not very different from every day life in a tiny apartment in Ireland where, again, his trains took up all the available floor surface. Paris, Rome, Missouri, Dublin, Portland... it all kind of blurs together for him, the wheres and the whens.

Like summer, my childhood winters blurs together into one, long, Beverly Cleary-eque day. I don't remember feeling cold or wet from the northern Idaho snow. I don't remember my mittens growing soggy with caked ice or the exhahusting task of keeping the sidewalk of our corner lot shoveled, although now that I've lived in snow country as an adult, I can imagine it. I don't even remember feeling stir crazy with too many days indoors, waiting for spring. No. Winter was all about sledding, and did I ever sled.

My friend Molly lived at the top of the best sledding hill in town and since I spent my afternoons at her house until my parents were done with work, I had the advantage over almost every other kid at school. Apart from Molly and her many brothers and sisters and Hannah, who lived across the street and therefore also had a full time sledding wonderland just out her front door, I got the most sledding hours per day of any kid I knew. We would rush home from school, toss our homework onto the table, gulp down a bowl of ramen noodles from the steaming pot that seemed ever present on the stove at Molly's house and be back out the door before the prime spots were taken by the other kids.

We became experts in reading the iciness of the street, too fresh of snow and the runner sleds, though faster and more controllable, were abandoned for the thin plastic sheet sleds or if we could find one, a smooth bottomed toboggan. Both were alright, but the runner sleds were best. With two or three kids packed on, the pilot holding firmly to the rope with her feet wedged onto the steering bar, the rear position rider would give a good push and then jump on, arms wrapped tightly around the waist in front of them if they were lucky, or sprawled out on the snow as the sled careened downhill away from them if they were not. The road dropped sharply downhill for a block, evened out as it crossed another street and then dipped again until it leveled out finally another block down. More often than not, a run would go awry and dump you into the snowbacks somewhere along the first block. A good run would carry you across the first cross street and you'd crash somewhere in the second block. A great run, only achieved if you started dead center in the road, if your runners were sharp, your passengers well balanced and your aim true, ended in an Olympic ski run finish, slowing to a perfect stop in the flat of the second cross street, arms in the air in triumph. Those were rare and wonderful moments, but they could be achieved. And then, no matter where you ended, the long slog up the hill to start again. A lesser run made acceptable by the fact that you only had a short distance to go to be back at the top, a great run made easy by the lingering triumph of making it to the bottom without a crash. Up to the top, and down again, over and over until the afternoon light faded into darkness and the street emptied until the next day. An eternal winter's afternoon.

                                                       - Gillian