“All clear!” the kid at the bottom of the hill yelled.
We trusted that he was not lying about approaching cars because we were sledding down an icy street, no adult supervision. As if hurtling head-first on a wooden Flexible Flyer sled with steel runners sharp enough to slice off a limb wasn’t harrowing enough, we were launching ourselves down the incline into a five-street intersection at Boogie’s Bridge over Newton Lake. Perhaps we survived because we were swaddled in layers of insulation. Sledding required a great deal of specialized attire in the 1960’s.
In order: Take one naked child and wrap them in
1. long thermal underwear, the kind with the waffle-y texture
2. corduroy pants
3. heavy sweater, preferably turtleneck
4. snowsuit/leggings anchored with an elastic strap around the foot
5. heavy jacket with a hood that was worn over a knitted cap and tied with a double-knotted string under the chin
6. old shoes wrapped in plastic bread bags (the bags supposedly helped the shoes to slide into cheap, tight rubbery boots–the kind with an elastic loop on the side that secured a flap of boot–but functioned mostly as a snow collector)
7a. cheap gloves that were soaking wet within minutes by the snowballs that we threw at each other before we reached the sidewalk, or,
7b. huge waterproof mittens that prevented all finger movement and snowball-making (those of us with the mittens were identified from afar by our postures, since we kept one hand up to our faces to bat away snowballs thrown by friends with super snowball-making gloves).
The result was a child swaddled like a mummy who could not move other than to fall flat, face-first on their sled, slap arms around the (non-functional) steering bar, yell “GO!” to friends who gave the sled a kick-push, then hurtle headlong down the mountain. Downhill took seconds but trudging back up, dragging the sled while wearing fifty pounds of clothing, was endless.
One winter, the ice on Newton Creek was very thick, so we launched our sleds straight out of the sloping woods onto the ice. Starting at the top of the woods, I careened through the rocks and trees, went airborne at the water’s bank, then crashed and skidded onto the ice. I swerved to avoid skaters and errant hockey pucks. The ice reverberated with a strange, barking sound. The older boys playing hockey cursed and yelled that they were there first.
After that winter, the hockey players took over the creek. I gave up sledding for ice skating and boy-watching at Knight Park.
(Postscript: the author survived years of these sledding adventures only to smash her right elbow to bits, at age 56, when she slid in front of hundreds of commuters at a Speedline station while walking to the turnstile).
That’s what Deb said.