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SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – The winter has always been a wonderful time of the year for me, what with the crisp air and glistening snow under a cloudless bright blue sky. Whenever there’s a snowfall it always reminds me of being a kid and going belly whopping with my friends on the pristine and blindingly bright and shiny surface. Toboggans are a lot of fun when sliding downhill but nothing can compare to running down the street with a sled in your hands and then flopping on it, racing the other kids while steering around any obstacles that stand in your way.
Nowadays kids have those plastic flying saucer-like discs or inflatable inner tubes that are terrific for sliding down snowy slopes, even when the snow is loose and fluffy, but the sleds of my youth with their metal runners still seem the best, at least in my memories of childhood.
The metal runners were useless on freshly fallen or loosely packed snow as I discovered early on, when I once grabbed my sled and ran down the street right after a snow storm. I flopped onto the sled only to slide off it head first as its runners cut through the powdery crystals and hit the pavement. So did my chin, in a lesson I never forgot.
But growing up in a city before the advent of snow removal or sand dispensing vehicles, it was never very long after a snowfall that the white stuff was firmly packed or turned into ice, just perfect for our Flexible Flyers. Not having fields with rolling hills to coast down, we made the best of our available surroundings, inventing all kinds of games that kids in rural areas could never imagine or have a need for.
One such activity was sliding down the stoop, a fun game that could only be played on the unique construction of the three and four story brownstone houses in our neighborhood. Each building had a ten step “stoop” made of sandstone slabs that gave access to the second floor. The rounded edges of each step quickly became coated with ice so we’d tote our sleds to the top landing, sit down with our feet on the steering mechanism, and then zoom down the steps, shooting across the street and ending on the opposite sidewalk. What a thrill. Of course we made sure there were no cars coming, but back in the 1940s there were few autos anyway so that was of little concern.
Another slightly more dangerous endeavor that actually required a passing auto was the game where one boy forcefully slid a sled across the street in front of an on-coming car while another kid jumped onto the sled and rode across standing up as though surfing. Not an easy feat and while it made us feel invincible it must have scared the daylights out of the drivers. Only kids could take such risks and I remember thinking that if the drivers couldn’t stop in time it was their problem. Someone must have been watching over us since we all survived unscathed.
Sleds were wonderful things not only as a means of conveyance but also as portable and impromptu shields to engage in snowball fights. Why waste time building a fort when all you need do was dig the backs of the runners into a snow mound so the sled stood erect, and you were ready to engage the enemy at a moment’s notice in case of a surprise attack. No Trojan army was ever better protected.
Thinking about my sled in conjunction with warfare, I’m always reminded of a sadder occasion when my sled was stolen by one of those metal drives during WW II when folks would come around to collect any metal objects lying about. I know it went for a good cause, like the horses that were borrowed by the Army from civilians during WW I, but my sled was never returned since no one ever gave me a receipt. I loved that sled and never got another. Imagine that… my little sled not only protected me but helped win a real war to preserve our democratic way of life.