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.|