An old arc light shedding light out over a snow covered hill. The light was at the end of my Grandparents driveway. Their house was directly on top of that hill, within earshot of our house sitting only a couple hundred yards below the hill. When I was a kid, that old light was like a glowing beacon, guiding you through a snowstorm to sled riding fun.
We spent many cold, eye squinting sun brightened, white snow winter days climbing up, and sliding down that hill. But night time, under the forecast of Grandpap’s creosote poll illumination, was the best of all. Even with being young, I loved this time so much that even then I took vivid mental pictures for my memory “Vault”, as well as recordings of the sounds, and the smell of a good fresh snowfall.
Most evenings after having a school canceling snow filled day, even if we had already made a few earlier day breathtaking, face chilling runs down the hill, I would anxiously don my snowpants, pull my felts over the breadbags protecting my socks and feet, and then start the task of pulling my boots over them. Some years we didn’t have the battle of pulling boots over felts, as “Moon Boots” made what seemed to be a short and popular surge, and maybe an even quicker departure.
80’s puffy polar apparel zipped up, and tied on, Mom would then help in the task of getting my second glove on. The first one was never a problem, that second one could end up taking time away from my sledding adventure if I didn’t have Mom’s assistance in making it a quicker task. These steps of getting dressed seemed to be like an Astronaut getting prepared to exit the door, and into a freezing and unknown territory.
Like so many things that the timing seemed to click like clock work, as I would quickly exit the door, Martin and Mary Ellen would most times just be starting their knee high snow walk with laughter pulling 5&10 sleds behind. Making our ascent up what seemed then like Mount Everest, Childhood does that, it’s like looking back into a rear view mirror, things may appear larger than they are. Looking back, the hill definitely looked larger and felt larger than it was. But an absolute perfect sledding hill nonetheless.
After making several passes down, and climbing back up with winter exhaustion, we would lay on our backs, talking and laughing while staring up at the hill into the darkness cutting glow of Granpap’s pole light. It had the ability to create a million dollar scene like that from Star Wars. Millions of giant snowflakes falling onto our reddened faces, captivating us many times to silence as we lay there. The silence was so relaxing. You could hear the soft sound of uncountable snowflakes making their landing on the covered ground. The constant electric hum of the radiating arc light giving a background music to the silence, while breathing in the lung refreshing smell of snow filled air. Yes, it has an indescribable, non-recreate-able smell, at least for me it does. If naming this organic, chill filled scent, it would be “Simpler Times”.
After doing all these events over and over again on the snow accumulating hill, coldness would be setting in. The coldness of snow being packed in between my bare legs and the felt liners of my boots, bread bags at this point slid down and bunched up in a toe cramping position, is such a great simple feeling in a such a small perfect spot in time. One that I can still feel years later in my mind after experiencing such a treasure. My inner wrists would also seem to be near hypothermic from gloves not sealing out the small frozen crystals, creating sometimes a skin numbing bracelet of snow.
Another memory etched in my freezing laughter filled evenings was seeing Grandpap sitting in his recliner watching out the window, probably thinking back to his childhood sled riding adventures, with huge smile on his face.
If I could go back, I’d make one more pass down the hill, laugh with Mary Ellen, Martin, and Gary for just a few more minutes. I would gaze into the huge snowflakes falling on my face while looking up into the pole topped light for a couple more minutes while trying not to blink as the large flakes landed on my eyelashes. I would stay there for a few minutes more, watching Grandpap with window lit enjoyment for just a few more minutes……..Trying to pause this perfect time.
Mom, now calling out through the snow filled darkness letting us know “It’s time to come in”, we would not say goodbyes, but yet “see you tomorrows”, scheduling more skin chilled fun with just that simple “see you tomorrow”.
I have a very fond memory of a day “sled riding” that left me with a small time travel button scar on my nose. Every time I look at this scar I go right back to a childhood winter storm that had covered the deep snow with a thick crust of ice. Knowing the danger of young boys trying to sled down a hill on ice thick enough to withstand the weight of us and our sleds, Dad instructed for a couple days “No sled riding today” before heading out the door for work. However, a couple days into this ice covered sledding season, Dad left for work and did not set the rule for the day. Mom also made no mention of it. So after being dressed to go outside, I grabbed the worn cord attached to my sled and started the difficult walk to the top of the hill.
The walk took a lot longer than previous trips, as I had to stomp with each step breaking through the crusted snow with precision. If my steps were not precise, the thick ice would feel like it was cutting through my ankles as I moved forward for the next Everest climbing experience. The painful, physical exhausting trip to the top seemed like a small price to pay for a speed seeking boy like myself. I could only imagine the speed and distance I could gain with this shiny, glass-like covered record setting thrill ride.
Now at the top, I sat on my sled trying to catch my breath and prepare for what I thought would be the fastest, funnest, sled ride ever. Gripping my sled cord tight in my finger cramped mittens, one little scoot of my weight, and off I went like Clark Griswold…… it was fast, so fast I can remember trying to put my hands down as “brakes” but the thick wrist cutting ice prevented any other attempt of trying to slow down or stop. The only events of this epic thrill seeking ride that I remember was the physically exhausting climb, the excitement of speed as I started to “push off”, the cold pain from trying to brake the ice with my hands for breaks, and seeing the picnic table ahead in my path…… and then waking up on the main road below our house (Distance record beat), with blood covering myself and all the white snow around me. Apparently the head hitting pass under the picnic table knocked me out for the rest of my record setting sledding trip to the ice covered roadside.
Someone went for Gram so she could help Mom as she doctored me up, called Dad’s work to let him know we would be at the hospital and then loaded me in the car for a trip to the Clearfield Hospital. That was a fast, painful, scary sledding trip, but one that is in with the good memories in my bank. Dad still thinks that he told us again on that day, like the previous days “No sled riding with this ice”. If he or Mom did, I do not remember that. Or maybe it was the inviting, shiny, speed producing, icy covering just outside the window that filled my mind with thrill seeking adventure. It blocked out hearing that I could not take advantage of this perfect opportunity for 5&10 plastic thrill ride.
I am so thankful for the gift of these times. Thankful for the gift of fun neighbors, and family to spend these times with. Thankful for Grandpap’s Pole Light and the snowstorm highlighting magical effects it created for a boy like me. Thankful that I could spend this time being in sight of Grandpap’s front row window view, giving him laughter and probably memory reflection flashbacks of snow packed boots of simple childhood times that he had and enjoyed.