So it is time to drag out the boxes and start tearing down the decorations.
I thought since all of this had been up for a month now, I’d done all of the reflecting that I could do. But sometimes new perspectives on decorations made by my uber creative wife seem to still be catching my attention.
Her new decoration this year was to hang a sled on the front door. I was tasked with engineering this new creation, and I always seem to focus more on the job of making her harebrained ideas work than actually taking notice of what her creation really is.
In this case, the centerpiece of this display was my old sled that I had as a kid. It has somehow remained in our garage attic for all of these years even though I cannot remember even bringing it into the marriage, much less how it ever survived my childhood.
Having successfully strapped this behemoth to the door, preventing it from swinging wildly when the door is closed and slamming into it when the door opens (details my wife just can’t seem to understand why I feel the need to address), I stood back and looked at the display. It dawned on me that the pull rope, still intact, was cut and tied on for me by my father, the scars it bears are from the many years of action it saw underneath me.
As the cold wind raked across me, suddenly I was taken back 40 years to the icy cold snow days that I rode this baby for hours on end. I have to admit, there were a few memories that made me crack an ever slight evil grin. You see, this was no ordinary sled. This baby, labeled the “Screaming Eagle” combined with my, let’s say, large frame, made a deadly combination on the mean streets of East Asheville.
Back in the 1970s, this baby was a bit of a new space age design. Wide plastic runners had taken over the old thin metal ones. While not as traditional, and perhaps a bit cheaper looking, this design enabled the educated young man to make a few “adjustments” in order to gain an edge while racing other kids on the sloped streets. We lived on a street that provided a consistent downhill grade long enough to provide an excellent track for racing against other sledders. Kids would line up at the top, and begin the long straight run four or five abreast, competing for neighborhood bragging rights.
Now, back to those plastic runners.
Being that I was already carrying some extra ballast to my frame, nothing says more speed than a can of Pledge furniture polish generously applied to some wide plastic sled runners. Now, with the sheer speed me and my Eagle possessed, it became a bit boring just screaming off the line to an easy downhill first place finish. I found it infinitely more fun to delay my start, let the others get the jump, and then begin running them down one by one, perhaps crashing them in the process. You see, a simple push to the front, or a grab and shove to the back of the runner would send a kid wildly out of control, and off the course entirely. Okay, I said I had ingenuity, I never said I used it for good.
Alas, with any evil effort, there usually comes consequences. So don’t worry dear reader, I was definitely served my share of comeuppance. The first came after a particularly heavy treatment of polish, I easily left the other sledders behind, only to discover the hard left curve coming up at the bottom was going to be quite impossible to negotiate at this high rate of speed. I steered hard left, and set the brakes (deployed both Nikes into the snow covered street), but failed to make the turn. I vaulted over the edge, literally sailed airborne and crashed headlong into the snow covered pricker bushes along the neighbors lower yard. The sudden inertia, and resulting pile of snow thumping down onto my head, and digging out the ten pounds of snow out of every pocket and crevice, told me that future consideration should be given to steering and stopping.
Okay, so I learned to start deceleration efforts in time for the curve in the future. However, there were many more self imposed mishaps that made victory a not so guaranteed thing. I remember a particular event, when we had several major snowstorms in 1978. We didn’t go to school for a month. It was one of the later days of melting and refreezing that made for some great sliding, but maybe best for after dark so the refrozen street would be conducive to the activity. In the streets, lit only by the sodium lighting, the patchy snow/ice mixture made for some even higher speeds. I began my usually track and destroy method of smoking the competition. One particular run, I was stalking the neighbor kid, and was reaching for his rear skid, just about to grab and deliver the push that would clear the way to victory. Then it happened. He sailed over a bare spot in the pavement, melted clear by the day’s sunshine. His metal runners threw up an amazing shower of sparks that lit the night, and covered me in what seemed an explosion of hellfire and damnation in my face. Well that was a new experience for me. Needless to say, I freaked, lost control and veered off course entirely. The curb in my neighborhood was just high enough to stop a screaming sled on a dime, yet just low enough to deny the rider the same courtesy. You have never lived until you have seen a fat kid screaming through your back yard in the night, spread eagle and wailing as he sails into the cluster of balsams at the bottom of your steep embankment. Same result: inertia, confusion, load of snow in the britches. That makes for a cold, wet embarrassing climb up toward the row of hysterical kids at the top.
Lesson learned: Don’t be bad, don’t be around anybody bad.
In retrospect, I’m glad the old sled survived and still lives to decorate our front porch at Christmas. It has been so many years since those memories flowed through me.
Then there is the mainstay of my youth.
Leaning in the corner, shadowed in the glow of the lights of our Christmas tree, stands my original 1940s model Daisy Red Ryder carbine action Range Model BB rifle. This was the one that the story was conceived from, you know the one. You may see it as that annoying movie played for 24 straight hours at Christmastime, or you may, like me, see it as a true representation of your younger years.
My fathers first gun, given to him for Christmas as a youth, passed down to my brother and then to me as a young boy many years later. Just like the sled, it managed to survive the passing into adulthood, and found its way back to me. After my fathers passing, I found it carefully preserved in the corner of his man cave, seemingly ready for the day I would take it home with me, reunited together after so long.
Again, the years between us disappear, and I am flooded with memories. Each year at Christmas, when I pull her out and set her in the corner, I smell the smells and hear the sounds of my childhood.
She was truly my sidekick, always with me when I roamed the woods and backyard jungles of my neighborhood. A boy never set out alone, he always had his BB gun just in case he needed to fend off invaders, or the occasional Grizzly bear. This blued steel beauty took out many tin cans, platoons of green plastic Army men and even a couple of my brothers prized model airplanes carefully suspended from tree limbs in a very threatening dive. It has lived three lifetimes, my Father, my older brother, then mine. The stories it could tell would fill volumes. We have no children, so I guess the memories will end with me, but she stays here, oiled, loaded and ready for action.
Just in case.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
AKA Big Daddy