The Fastest Sled on the Hill
When my son, Mark, called from Durham on the last Sunday in January to say he was getting ready to go sledding, I wasn't surprised.
More than seven inches of snow had fallen during the night. And, there was a thick under layer of pure ice, a perfect combination.
He and some friends had gotten together for a hearty breakfast. Seldom used winter gloves and worn, but worthy jackets had been pulled from bottom drawers and from the back of the closet. Well-fed and warm, they were ready to hit the highest hill.
The sleds are stored in the "party house" adjacent to the courtyard that links the two houses. Like everything that goes unused, they needed a little touch-up.
Mark's friend, Jeff, a mountain man from Diana, W.Va., knew the cause and had the cure when he said, "Get me two hammers, a screwdriver, some wire, sandpaper, a block of wood and some bar soap or wax, and I can fix these sleds."
There were three. The newest, a 48-inch Flexible Flyer III, was bought at Public Hardware in the winter of 2000, famed for its record snowfall. The 46-inch Royal Racer was bought in Raleigh in the late 1960s. We were living on Barker Place in Brentwood, a community comprising young couples with growing families. And, when the first snow fell, we all gathered at the top of Brentwood Road for the maiden run.
But behind the third sled lies a somewhat different story. It's a 38-inch Sky Plane that dates back to December 1942.
My father had moved us from Chicago to Baltimore after being offered a job with Glenn L. Martin Airplane Company. We had seen snow for two months. But since we had lived in a sprawling inner-city complex, there had been no mention of sledding.
Armistead Gardens was beautiful by comparison. It was on the eastern side of Baltimore and had been built by the Army Corps of Engineers for defense workers who migrated to Baltimore, mostly to work at Martin.
Daddy was buying coal by the bag and alternately cursed and kicked the unpredictable furnace that quickly turned to ash every chunk hand-fed into its growling belly.
My brother, Mike, and I slept in a small bedroom just large enough to accommodate a cot and a crib. He had been born in Chicago when I was seven and was three when we found the Sky Plane sitting in the middle of the living room on Christmas morning. It was the only thing in the room. And I knew not to ask how it got there.
Mark called a half a dozen times during those snowbound days. They were on Ruffin Street before moving over to an icier base on Demerius between Duke and Gregson. Grilled pimento cheese sandwiches and tomato soup took the chill off at lunch. The best sledding started late in the afternoon. For two nights, leftover turkey soup from Thanksgiving and Jeff's West Virginia venison stew with homemade corn fritters were served up after 9 p.m. in front of the fireplace.
Somewhere in my parents' drape-drawn house on Oak Island, there's a picture of me and Mike sitting on that sled. We know it's in a shoebox. When I called to ask about it, Mike said, "You're holding me on your lap, and I'm wearing a snowsuit." It's a black-and-white picture. But, the snowsuit was yellow, a shade or two darker than Mike's almost white-blond hair which, never having been cut, covered his head in thick, loose ringlets.
Mark told me that, after more than 60 years, the red flames on the steering handle of the Sky Plane are still vivid, and that it was the top pick and favored as being the winner on all the downhill races.
What I wouldn't have given if my parents could only have heard him say, "Mom, she's still the fastest sled on the hill!"
Contact Southern Pines writer Lois Holt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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