I remember waking up on certain winter mornings, my face peeking into the cold while the rest of me snuggled comfortably beneath a pile of blankets, my brain resisting consciousness and the inevitable beginning of a new day. I could often predict the weather by the color of the dawn light filtering through the curtains of my bedroom, and every once in awhile, instead of the golden glow of sunshine or the grayness of rain, I’d realize that the room was aglow with that peculiar, alabaster purity that can only come from a fresh snowfall.
No longer caring about the cold, I’d sit bolt upright and whip open the curtains, greeted with giddy delight by a world of white.
Bounding out of bed, I’d switch on the radio and listen to the news, until at last I heard those words we kids had prayed for all winter long: “All Wake County schools will be closed today.”
Raleigh in the 60’s hadn’t heard of snow plows.
Mom fed me hot oatmeal, which I devoured as quickly as possible so as not to waste a second of this unplanned vacation. In the laundry room I’d dig out boots and gloves and trudge out to the shed, my heavy boots making scrunching sounds in the untracked powder. Back in a dark corner, hidden behind rakes and shovels was my trusty Flexible Flyer sled, its oak and steel frame worn and loosened by years of downhill racing.
Over the next 30 minutes I’d lovingly polish the runners until they shone, then I’d apply light oil to the steering mechanism. Ready at last, I’d dig in my closet for the wool scarf my grandmother had given me, wrapping it around my neck to seal out the cold winds. After bundling up, it was off to the street where a few other kids were already sledding, packing the snow down into a fast glaze. The sun hidden behind a low, gray sky, we knew it would be a long, cold day of races.
Our street went down a long hill to a T intersection at the bottom. We’d race down the street 2 or 3 at a time, preferring a running start, legs pumping hard before throwing ourselves down on our sleds and taking the arrow-straight aerodynamic posture that would give us the most speed.
At the bottom, if you swung wide and leaned hard, you could make the turn, throwing up a rooster-tail of ice as you slid sideways and headed fast for the far curb. As the day progressed and the road became faster, turning became impossible, so we’d plow straight ahead into the neighbor’s yard, sitting up and digging in our heels while avoiding trees and concrete lawn ornaments.
Victorious or defeated, we’d gather together for the slow and slippery trudge back up the hill, pulling our sleds behind us as we bragged about how fast we’d been going or how close we’d come to wiping out, our frozen lips barely able to make intelligible sounds.
I’d sled until I was completely frozen and shivering uncontrollably. Only then would I stumble back into the house, where Mom would have to help me with coat and gloves because my fingers no longer moved. She’d cover me in a blanket, sit me by the fireplace and get me a cup of steaming hot chocolate. Slowly in the overheated family room, as ice particles melted and dripped from my hair, I’d warm up again as I told her of my adventures. After an hour or two, I’d climb back into my cold, wet snow gear and head outside again, me and my trusty Flexible Flyer.
There’s a chance of snow tonight. I feel like a giddy kid again.