I bought it on faith.
Everybody knew it never snowed in Leiper’s Fork anymore, at least not to the epic levels the old timers talked about. But sometime that November– when the skies turned gray and the air smelled of winter— we began to think that this might be the year.
So, I went to the hardware store and bought a sled. On faith. I was so determined in my belief that I didn’t care what it cost, and I bought what the salesman told me was the top of the line.
Well, top of the line or not, it wasn’t much to look at– just a flimsy four foot tub of black plastic with a rope attached to one end. It looked to me like a cut-rate horse trough, but I bought it. On faith. I took the sled home, stowed it in the smokehouse, and we began watching the skies.
The early signs weren’t good. We had some pretty impressive cold snaps, and a few dustings of snow, but serious snow never materialized. My darlin’ Anne took to consulting the Farmer’s Almanac, but about all it said was that winter was going to be cold. No shit. It didn’t say much about snow. But when we examined the horses’ winter coats, we found them as thick as Eskimo fur. Maybe they knew something.
Then, in late January, the word went out that snow was on the way, maybe 3 or 4 inches! For once, faith had been rewarded. We got ready, dragging out old mittens and stocking caps and, best of all, brushing the dust off the new sled.
The snow started right on time and by midnight we measured a full six inches! Just perfect, we thought. To make things even better, a misting of rain fell and froze on top of the snow.
The first thing in the morning we headed over to Christmas Tree Hill, across the road from Rachael McCampbell’s house. Rachael had promised everybody hot chocolate and cookies, so that was the place to be. The hill was just steep enough, and with the night’s rain it was now as slick as polished glass.
In short order, our neighbors began to arrive. Pat McLaughlin and his son Jamie had walked all the way over from their house– at least two miles– since Pat’s darlin’ Sally wouldn’t let him drive in the snow. Then Mark Ham arrived with his three boys, bringing sleds and barely controlled enthusiasm. And Tom and Jill Wade drove up with their two darling daughters. Then Sally finally trundled up. At one time or another, we had about a dozen or more people perched on the verge of the hill preparing to slide off in search of excitement.
Ours and the Hams’ were the only actual sleds. Everybody else had brought wildly improvisational contraptions, from a broken road sign to sheets of plywood to garbage can lids. Somebody had brought some serving trays from the cafeteria at Hillsboro School. Best of all, Jamie McLaughlin scored a big silver mixing bowl from the Country Boy.
But the prize of the sledding collection was an ugly brown queen-size air mattress Rachael dragged up from Bruce and Marty Hunt’s barn. To everyone’s surprise, the mattress slid very well and people began taking running starts and diving onto it, launching themselves off the hill. Dear Sally McLaughlin, bless her heart, dived for it once and missed her aim completely, plowing into the snow on her face, and then rolling over on her back, covered with ice, and pealing with laughter. The redoubtable Rachael, demonstrating the aplomb of a bird on a wire, was able to ride the mattress standing up.
The improvised sleds worked pretty well too, blasting down the slope as our golden retrievers, Daffodil and Walter, raced alongside, barking and trying to jump aboard. They never made it onto the sled, but they provoked some spectacular crashes.
The crashes were the best part of the fun. Everyone would hoot and cheer when someone flipped over or spun around backwards. The consensus winner of the crash competition was Jamie McLaughlin on his Country Boy mixing bowl. He’d go into an uncontrollable spin as soon as he began to slide. The spinning would grow faster and faster until Jamie was finally flung off to the side at top speed. He said the spinning and the G-forces gave him a grand feeling of dizziness.
On our store-bought sled, the Ham family won the distance competition by a wide margin, sliding all the way down the hill and out across the pasture below, farther than anybody.
But the award for the prettiest sledder went to Tom and Jill’s ten-year-old daughter Tatum– long and limber as a willow stem, with a perpetual smile on her face.
There were smiles all around that day, and everyone came back the next morning, on another blue and brilliant day, to do it all again.