I was twelve the winter fourteen inches of snow swooped down on our small Tennessee town. An unusual, but lovely sight just before Christmas. Our family of nine lived in a community where everyone knew everyone. Daddy worked on a riverboat and was gone a month at a time, so the care and discipline of the rowdy brood was placed in Mama's capable hands.
A large family living in a rural area is forced to conjure up its own ideas for entertainment. Money was always in short supply, but our creative juices weren't. What one child could not think of, the other could.
Jewell, the sister, older than me, Paul, three years younger, and I, were middle-born children, who thrived by living on the edge. Handy with a saw and hammer, Ralph, an older brother, possessed a genius for creating items from wood. One year it was a raft. The previous winter he had constructed a crude sled, using 2 by 4s as runners. Then he stretched several 1 by 4s across the top and nailed them securely. The 1 by 4s were strategically spaced at four -inch intervals. The completed work resembled a wooden pallet, sturdy, but too heavy to glide on "soft" snow.
That had not discouraged us the previous winter. When the cumbersome sled would not cooperate, we found a discarded wringer-washer lid, unscrewed the knob, and enjoyed ecstatic hours skimming down the steep, wooded hill at a speed that would make a gazelle blush.
But the three of us wanted a vehicle that could transport us together. After all, what good is an adventure if it can't be shared? Hurriedly, we layered on coats, scarves, and toboggan's, to perform the farm chores. We waddled about like over-stuffed penguins in our bundlesome garb. After the chickens and livestock were fed and loads of wood were wheeled to the porch, we found the sled. The trio knew it would meet the criterion when the deep snow crunched beneath our boots and sloshed over the tops, on our way to the slope.
The slope was a steep, wooded hill near our house. Halfway down the incline, a gnarled root jutted out from an oak stump. It served as a ramp to shoot the sled and its occupant up and off "into the wild blue yonder." This made for an exhilartating experience, even if the landing was sometimes rough, and often ended in the shallow creek a the foot of the hill. No worries that particular day since the creek was frozen.
My sister and I pulled the sled to its destination while Paul followed, the washer lid wedged under one arm. We took turns skimming down the hill on the round lid, to pack the snow for our heavy sled. The rush of the wind stung my face as the lid and I hit the root and sailed through the cool, crip air to land softly, and glide to a stop short of the creek. Exhilarating!
After each had take a turn on the circular lid without incident, we thought it safe to climb onto the sled. Eagerly, we boarded the cumbersome vehicle. Paul sat up front, I took the middle, and Jewell gave us a strong hard shove-off and jumped on the back. Downhill we sped faster and faster until the sled struck the massive root. Whoosh! Our sled flew up and we were airborne. Sis and I managed to keep our grip, but Paul shot forward through the air head-first. He thudded to the ground face up, before we swept over him. Jewell and I hung on to the sled for dear life while the speeding demon gained momentum. The only thing we could see between the slats was our brother's terrified eyes as he cried, "Stop! Stop!" But there was nothing we could do except hang on for the duration...and laugh. It shouldn't have been funny, but we shook so hard that we almost fell off the sled.
Finally, we struck the ice-covered creek, skidded a few feet, and came to a screeching halt. We heard a cracking noise before the ice split and the sled upended like the Titanic. Jewell and I pulled the cumbersome object off Paul's battered body, and brushed the snow and ice from his clothes. Since he was near to tears, we tried to look somber. Then Paul started to wail, "I'm ne-v-ver doin' thi-is ag-ai-n-n!"
When giggles erupted, he stammered, "It's no-o-t fun-ny! I'm go-ing back to the h-hou-u-se!" Shivering and soaked, Paul crawled up the hill. After a few slips, he reached the peak of the slippery slope and slogged back toward the warm Morning Stove and a mug of hot cocoa.
A few more rides rides and Jewell and I were exhausted. We called it a day. Tomorrow we would beging again, and who could tell what thrills awaited our daring trio. Or was it now, "our daring duo."?
The cataclysmic sled ride would always be remembered--though a bit differently from Paul's perspective. And though the years have flown, each Christmas our family gathers around the kitchen table after a delicious meal to recount that day with hilarity.
Paul never grasped the humor, but Jewell and I still giggle when we reount our little brother's glazed eyes as he glared up between the boards on the makeshift sled. And it is with amusement each Christmas Day, that we relive the memory of this rare moment in time.