I woke up and looked out the second floor window of my grandparents house. A foot of snow had fallen overnight. The whole world was covered in white. I didn’t need to turn on my A.M. radio to know the school bus was not showing up that day to take us away.
My brother was still sleeping. I slid out of bed and creaked down the 100 year old staircase; running my hand across the Lady Liberty hand-carved newel post at the bottom. She had seen better days, with well-worn, cracked and chipped lacquer but still held her mahogany soul. She must have been a later addition, lifting an electrical socket towards the sky. No need to screw in a bulb, it wouldn’t shine.
Into the kitchen, I dragged a chair across the smooth linoleum floor. I needed it to reach the Frosted Flakes hidden behind the cupboard door. My cousin came in and clattered the bowls. My brother and his sister were always the deepest sleepers. But it wouldn’t take them long. Mom would be last.
I opened the closet near the front door and dug into the jumble of winter clothes that sat in a heap. Everything was mix and match and came from somebody else. If it fit, that is what you wore that day. I found my favorite pair of boots. Ski boots, cross country I think. There were no skis in the house. They looked like a pair of hiking boots with a thick hard rubber, square toed sole. I liked the process of looping the laces around the curved metal hooks. I loved those things. I wore them everywhere that year; even to school; they weren’t shit for keeping your feet warm but I thought they were cool. (I wasn’t cool)
Everyone gathered in the kitchen, hustling and bustling. Putting on two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, a sweater or whatever. Most of us had hats, wrap a scarf around my brother’s head and he’d walk around like “The Mummy.” (Creature Double Feature, Saturday afternoons) We all had good winter coats. One more thing before we were allowed outside. My mom ALWAYS had old household tricks that NEVER worked. This one was to keep our socks dry. Wonder Bread bags over our feet before we slipped them into our shoes. Where did they all come from? How much bread were we eating? Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
Then we were out the door, trudging up the hill towards “South Road”. It was the first road cleared in the town however many hundreds of years ago. It was really a one lane dirt cow path through forest. It must have been surveyed because it was straight as an arrow. As far as I can remember we were the only ones who still used it. It was a mile walk through the unbroken snow to get to the sledding hill. Farmer Brown’s cornfield. Yes. That was his name. He would sell vegetables in season and use his tractor to plow everyone’s driveway in the winter. He charged by the job but my grandfather wanted to pay according to how inches of snow were on the ground. After every storm they would stand at the bottom of the driveway and have heated arguments. I not sure who won. I mean, we needed the snow removed and Brown had the only tractor in town but my grandfather was always adamant.
Farmer Brown had an accident earlier in his life. He was trimming a tree limb above his head when the chainsaw kicked back and the chain caught him in the mouth. He wasn’t disfigured but his tongue didn’t heal correctly. It affected his speech and the harder he argued with my grandfather, the louder and faster he talked. Until it was impossible to understand what he was saying. We would mimic him and crack each other up. MMMFFF! MMMFFF! MMMFFF! I guess it wasn’t very funny.
Finally we reached the end of the trail. Our socks already drenched (Thanks Mom.) and our jeans soaked up to the knees. Who cares? We were there! We only had two sleds so the two oldest would lie down faces pointed forward and the youngest would sit on our backs. We would play “Mad Max” and try to knock the other rider off. That was fun.
We were usually the first kids to get there after a storm and we would prepare the runway. Most kids started at the edge of the clearing and had a smooth ride. We blazed a trail from the very top of the hill that twisted and turned with built up banks on the curves. We fucked around and found out one day, if the snow wasn’t deep enough you would just go in a straight line. My cousin met a tree head on. It’s not funny. I’m not sure if we more worried about him being unconscious for a minute or how we were going to drag him back home and explain it to our parents. He recovered and got back on the horse the same day. Maybe that is why the other kids didn’t start at the top?
When the sun touched the tips of the trees on the other side of the road, that was our signal we had just enough time to trek home before it got completely dark. That was when we would notice the temperature. Looking at each other crusted from head to toe in frozen slush.
What a motley crew.
Back inside to sit by the heat and eat and pray for another storm.