As a teenager I spent two winters in Suitland, Maryland and there were heavy snowfalls in both years, heavier than any snowfall I remember in my hometown of Columbus, Mississippi or in any other location in which I spent time in my teenage years. The lack of snow in our winters was just one of the three reasons that I never owned a snow sled. The other two reasons were that we had no hills in Columbus worthy of sledding, and even had there been mountains, my family could not have afforded a sled—after housing, food, clothing, transportation and even a slight attention to health, there was nothing left for winter pleasures such as sleds or skis or mukluks or hot toddies. The only sleds I was familiar with were the wooden-skidded sleds drawn by mules on the farm, sleds used to move heavy items such as bagged fertilizer, wood for fireplaces and kitchen stoves, and to move corn and watermelons and pumpkins from the field to storage. No, we never tried sliding downhill on those sleds—never even considered it!
I arrived at Union Station in Washington, D.C. in December to live with my brother and his family in Suitland, Maryland and a heavy snow fell early in the spring. I had no sled, but some of my new friends in Carry Homes where my brother lived had sleds, and all were generous in sharing them with me. My brother’s duplex sat at the top of a long and fairly steep hill, and most of the sledders in the neighborhood favored that hill for sledding. I quickly became adept at sledding—it seemed to come natural to me—not that sledding is difficult to learn, because gravity does most of the work. The sled operator needs only learn to steer the sled by the sled’s handle grips and body movements and learn how to avoid anything that might impede the sled’s race to the bottom of the hill.
Yep, sledding came easy for me and I reveled in it, but I learned, late one evening on a cold and still night after the other sledders had gone home, that I still had a lot to learn about sledding. One of my playmates abandoned his sled at the top of the hill near my house, and I appropriated it for some late night sledding. There were several cars parked on the hill, but only one on the right side—keep that one in mind—but the center was open and I made several speed runs to the bottom, exalting in the bitter cold, red cheeked and nose running faster than I could keep it licked off, and I felt really happy and alive—too happy for the feeling to last.
During the day I had seen some of the kids sledding backwards down the hill, and I decided to try it. Got the picture? Can you guess what happened on my first try? If you guessed that I slid under the only car parked on the right side of the street, you win the stuffed gorilla. At the beginning of my slide I kept an eye turned over my shoulder, but as the ride progressed I became careless, feeling that I had already mastered backwards sledding.
The sled had no trouble clearing the underside of the sedan that it went under, the only auto parked on the right side of the street. It continued its journey under the rear bumper, the muffler, the transmission, the engine and the front bumper without slowing and thence to the bottom of the hill, but its successful trip did not include me. I stopped abruptly when my head hit the rear bumper.
I don’t know how long I lay on my stomach under the car, but I know that when I awoke I had a huge goose egg on the back of my head and a headache—no blood, but the mother of all headaches. I remained there for awhile, speculating on whether I should turn myself in for needed medical attention—for a concussion, perhaps, or loss of memory, or the possibility of broken speech and uncontrollable movements indicating severe brain damage. The more I considered it the longer the list of adverse possibilities became. At one point I felt that I was the victim of all those problems, but after awhile the headache began to subside and the goose egg, although still very large, was a bit less sensitive.
I crawled out from under the car, wandered around in the cold night air for awhile to get my bearings and finally trudged home, entered the house and announced to all that sledding was very tiring and that I was going to retire early. I never told anyone about the time I stupidly slid downhill backwards on a sled and had my ride interrupted by a car bumper. You, the reader, are learning about it at the same time my children are.
Eventually the goose egg disappeared, and in that winter and the following winter I had ample opportunities to go sledding—for some unaccountable reason I never sledded again. Once was enough for me—in that slide downhill with me facing uphill, I learned everything that one should do and not do while in that position on a snow sled speeding downhill. And as for skiing? Forget about it!
Oh, concerning the sled I left at the bottom of the hill that night—I’m guessing the owner found it, but I have no way of knowing that he did—at least none of the kids came around asking if I had seen a lost sled.
That’s my story about sledding and I’m sticking to it!