I was in the shower this morning, enjoying the warmth washing over me, when my thoughts started wandering, as they often do when I’m in the shower, and I got to thinking about how in a few short minutes I’d be stepping out into the frigid arctic temperatures that have invaded Ohio so often this winter.
Before long my thoughts drifted to thoughts of winters past and all the fun I had playing in the snow as a youngster.
As I closed my eyes to rinse the shampoo out of my hair, I could see myself zooming down any of the many snow- and ice-slickened hills – on a real sled. The ones with runners and a steering device up front. The ones you could guide through and around obstacles, or down a sidewalk, maybe even through the woods.
Not one of a hundred different kids of plastic contraptions they have now that you can’t really steer. And certainly not on those things they call snowboards.
We used sleds. With runners. A bobsled showed up once in a while, inner tubes from time to time, and maybe a big piece of cardboard, but that was it.
My first memory of sled riding comes from the home I lived in with my parents on Josie Avenue in Hillsboro from the time I was around 4 until my first week in the fifth grade. One of those early years we had a fairly deep snow, then there must have been some rain, because one morning when I got up the snow was froze so hard on top that a little fellow like I was then could walk across the top of it.
Behind the homes at the end of Josie Avenue there was a small hill. That led to a flat area in the backyard and then into the woods. We had trails in the woods and I vividly remember guiding my sled, with runners and steering, down the hill, across the yard and onto the main trail in the woods.
It seemed like a really long ride. Years later I went back to the old neighborhood to check out the woods I had played in during those early years. I found a little rise we had played king of the hill on, thinking it must have been 15 or so feet tall in those days, and it turned out to be four or five feet tall, if that. And the trails I imagined going on forever and forever really weren’t very long.
But on that day when I was 5 or 6 and the snow was crusted, they sure seemed long, and that’s how I was remembering them as the hot shower water warmed my imagination.
The next thing I remembered was near the old house on the hill behind the Dairy Queen in Hillsboro where Dave and Nancy Wyckoff lived. There was a long gravel lane leading up the hill to their house and a time or two we had winter church social gatherings there. One year the lane was covered mostly with ice and we could sled down the hill so fast that our eyes watered until we could barely see. At the end of the hill there was a fairly long flat area, then a bit of an incline before the lane reached U.S. Route 50. Sometimes we’d be going so fast that we’d have to role off the sled before we coasted out onto the highway.
Then came the memory of the blizzard of 1977 and the following winter in 1978 that was nearly as bad. In 1977, my sophomore year in high school, we went to school two days in January. My junior year we went to school one day in January. So, when it wasn’t too cold and our parents would let us out, we did a lot sledding.
There was the Johnson Street hill, at one end of Pleasant Street, where my family had moved to by then. Johnson Street was less traveled than the hill on the other end of Pleasant Street, and it seemed that roads weren’t salted or gritted as much back then. If we beat the salt trucks there, we could glide a good three blocks down to SR 73. Once the salt trucks ruined things, we migrated over to the sidewalk. That was a little more dangerous, with lots more obstacles and slight curves. But hey, we had sleds with runners.
We’d often sled ride at the Hillsboro Elks, down the big hill along SR 138, down the hills at the old Washington school building where an empty fire house now stands, and lots of other places.
When we got a little older, someone got the bright idea that it would extra fun to grab a tractor tire inner tube, load seven or eight guys on top of it, and glide down hills. Oh, an even brighter idea was making sure there was a ramp near the end of the hill, so that when we hit it, bodies would go flying in every direction, and land in every position possible, on top of or under who knew who or what.
It took about two rides to determine it was a stupid idea. Someone came up spitting blood, someone else broke a bone, and that was end of that.
Ah, yes, winter is such great fun, isn’t it?
It was as those thoughts were dancing in my head that I realized my head no longer had shampoo on it, and it was time to get out of the shower. Dang, better dress warm, I thought, ‘cause it’s darn cold outside.
I’ve been told The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that we’re supposed to have a blizzard in February. It might be kind of fun, and it might make for some good news stories. But, brrrr….
I’ve often said that if it has to be winter, and cold, it might as well snow. Really? I must have been in the shower.
Jeff Gilliland can be reached at 937-393-3456 est. 209 or on Twitter at 13gillilandj.