Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Great Sled Race

Photo prompt from Magpie Tales 

When I was a child snow often fell over the Berkshires shortly before Thanksgiving. It would catch first along the hedgerows and in the tall dead grasses that lined the roads. Soon lawns and fields were covered with a thin blanket and we children began to get excited. Toward the middle of December, when there was a good six inches of snow on the ground, enough to slide on, my brother Frank would take the sleds down from their storage place over the garage rafters, oil the runners well and tie new knots in the frayed tow ropes. My sisters (who were twins) and I, well wrapped in snowsuits, scarves, boots, and mittens would tromp up the hill behind him.
West’s Hill was the best place to go sledding. The middle of the hill was quite steep, studded with large snow covered rocks that made marvelous jumps. We would plant our sleds at the crest, back up a bit to get a good running start, and belly flop on the sled, shrieking and yelling as down we sailed. At that bottom of the hill there was a barbed wire fence that Farmer West clipped in the middle. He made a loop of one end and hooked it over a fence post, allowing us to unhook it and fold the fence wire back when we wanted to slide. Most of the time we remembered to open the wire gate, leaving a space wide enough for two sleds to get through side by side. Now and then one of us lost a hat or felt the stern prick of the wire on the backs of our heads when we forgot.
The January I was ten there was over a foot of snow on the hill. We had a big race planned with the three West children who lived at the top. They had boasted that their three flexible flyers tied together could beat our new Christmas toboggan any day. We met at the top of the hill on a snowy Saturday afternoon to test their brag.
The wind blew the words out of our mouths as the twins and Frank and I argued over who would steer the toboggan and who would stand at the bottom of the hill to declare the winners. If the race was to be fair only three of us could ride the toboggan down the hill. The fourth would have to act as judge.
Frank dropped the toboggan down. He knelt on it and bounced it a little to wedge it into the snow, making sure it would not take off without us. One of the twins was elected to referee the race. She trudged disconsolately down the hill and stood with her back to us, pouting. The other twin and I took our places on the toboggan.
The neighbor kids’ three sleds were tied together. The oldest boy sat in front to steer, his brother sat on the middle sled, and their little sister brought up the rear.
“We’re ready!” Frank yelled down the hill to the referee.
She looked  up. She yelled something back.
“What?” Frank hollered, but the answer was indecipherable. She just stood, waving her arms and kicking the fence post.
“On your mark, get set, GO!” Frank bellowed and with a running jump, landed solidly on the back of the toboggan. I heard our opponents give a whoop as the three sleds took off beside us.
We plowed headlong through the snow that blew back in our faces, blinding us. The toboggan hit a boulder and veered off crazily, landing with a thump. The three of us shot up into the air and came back down with great emphasis. The bottom of the hill was coming up fast. My little sister suddenly leaned back against me.
“Hemph!” she shouted.
“What?” I yelled back?
She pulled her scarf away from her mouth. “Fence!”
The word was suddenly clear. In our excitement over the race, none of us had thought to move the barbed wire fence out of the way. Now a single strand of that wicked wire lay in wait across the path of our speeding sleds. The referee twin was frantically scrabbling with the loop but the deep snow had half buried the post and she was too little to budge the wire.
“Bail out!” I screeched, grabbing my sister’s shoulders, tipping us both to the right as hard as I could. Frank’s feet, hooked around my waist, came along and we spilled into the snow. Right beside us I saw three bodies catapult off the sleds and plunge into the snow in a wild tangle of arms and legs. The toboggan and the sleds went on down the rest of the hill without us. We lay for a moment in stunned silence then, “Tie!” hollered the referee in the direction of the empty sleds and she stomped off for home.

The winter of the big snow and the house where we lived. The hill was just up the road from here.

Thanks Hilary!


Tess Kincaid said...

Wonderful wintry memories.

steven said...

pauline - this is a chapter in a book - the book of your life for starters, but a book of beautifully expressed memories. i could read a book of writing like this!! steven

Brian Miller said...

hehe. that was awesome...we lived at the top of a hill and would race down toward an aunts house at the bottom and see who could get closest to the drop off of her drive way without was about a 10 ft

Tabor said...

What a great winter story. Brought back my childhood adventures!

Jingle said...

a cool realization in it,
lovely memories.
Happy Snow Days.

Suz said...

Oh boy what a story!!!
I was gripped to the edge of my chair.....glad it all came out fine
nice magpie tale

Pauline said...

Thanks Tess - it was as fun to recall and write about as it was to live it :)

Thanks, Steven - as it turns out, you can. I self published a book and for $10 you can read all sorts of Pauline memories :)

Yikes, Brian - did you ever not bail out in time?

Tabor - I have a lot of great childhood memories :)

Thanks, Jingle - I love snow!

Suz - glad I had you reading to the end :)

Tumblewords: said...

A lovely write - breathtaking fear from this reader - so glad you bailed in time!

Marilyn said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this trying to hurry through your words to see if anyone was hurt by the fence. Great save and great memory.

deb said...

I just love that photo. What a gorgeous house...

glad you bailed in time... winter as a child was so much more exciting than as an adult , driving , shoveling, etc

herhimnbryn said...

Ah P, such beautiful memories here.
I can see this illustrated as a children's book!

Lyn said...

I can just imagine the 3 sleds tied together..what an adventure!
Better the snow than the barbed wire..This is super!!

Barbara said...

What a great memory! I was cheering for the toboggan, but I heartily agree a bailout was necessary.

Hilary said...

What a great story. It brought back memories of wonderful days gone by. Thank you for this.

Pauline said...

Tumble - the rest of us followed the ref home but vowed a rematch

Thanks for stopping by to read, Marilyn

deb - I still miss that house!

HHB - I'm recording the stories for my grandkids - making my own book :)

Thank, Lyn!

Barbara - my head still bears scars from that wire

Hilary - thanks for coming by :)

LauraX said...

Wonderful completely engaging!!!

Marion said...

I wanted to continue reading, Pauline...this was awesome! What a fabulous home you grew up something out of a fairy tale, with all that snow piled up in front of it.

I'll bet it looked truly stunning at Christmas. And what a great idea to write these stories and make them into a book for your grandchildren...I have stories set aside for mine, as well.

Berowne said...

An exciting story, well written.

Anonymous said...

This is a real tension-builder, Pauline, drawing the reader forward towards the (nearly disastrous) payoff.

Pauline said...

Thanks Laurax - glad you liked it

Marion - I've written dozens of such tales. Perhaps I shall post others. The house always looked as it does - we never decorated the outside, only hung lighted wreaths in the living room windows.

Berowne - thanks. I've read a few of your own stories and could say the same.

Dick - a few times we didn't bail in time. My head still bears the scars.

Ruth said...

I'm giggling, and I agree with Steven! You are one delightful story teller. Absolute perfection.

Russell said...

Looks like a great place to grow up!

The image of the wooden sled brings back a lot of memories (!!). In fact, I still have a sled like that in my barn. I am not sure if they make them like that any more with the metal runners, etc.

Once you got the snow packed down the runners waxed up, watch out!

Take care.

(Queenmothermamaw) Peggy said...

Loved it gal. Sure brought back memories. The wind, snow and innocence are perfect things to contemplate this snowy season here in Ky. blessings

Anonymous said...

Judith at, directed me to your site. She was correct. You have an amazing ability to write. I love the mages I was able to picture of your winter memories. Thank you for sharing this lovely story.

I have enjoyed reading your various posts. They are all wonderful!


Joanna Jenkins said...

The adventures of a ten year old! Great, great story.
I'm guessing there was a rematch?
Cheers, jj

Meggie said...

Oh! the suspense was wonderful!
Great story.

Pauline said...

Thanks Ruth - this one was fun both to live through and recount

Russell - it still is. I live not 3 miles form my own homestead. I still have my old Flexible Flyer, too!

Glad you enjoyed it Peggy! Thanks for coming by :)

Ah finding - thank you. Judith is a marvelous writer, too :)

Joanna - there was a rematch but it didn't live up to the excitement of this one :)

Meggie - thanks :)

Judith said...

This reads like a story by a happy and fulfilled Edith Wharton! Loved it ----

Anonymous said...

Wonderfully descriptive!

Out on the prairie said...

What a wonderful story. to me a toboggan was mostly a straight shot and hard to steer. I had a metal one that was fast but took many of us into trees and other obstacles we didn't want. We also rode a big grain shovel a few times when there wasn't enough sleds to go around.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad all children bailed out in time! You had me holding my breath there toward the end. Well written!

Linda said...

What fun! And well told.

focusfinder said...

Does the hill still seem as steep to you?

Pauline said...

Judith - as you know, I have lots of such stories!

thanks, ladyfi

OOTP - this one was hard to steer too and we had a fairly straight run!

thanks for coming by, kc - it as an close call!

thanks, Linda - I try :)

You know, B, it does! I went sledding there last year with the grands and it seemed just as far down to the bottom (and back up to the top) as ever!

Travel Nurse Extraordinaire said...

My heart sank when I read "barbed wire", I was so glad it was a happy ending. Lovely story, thanks for sharing the memories! Happy Holidays!