Something Old

Something Old

In the weathered barn of the Johnson store, beneath the rack of our fleece and flannel Stadium Blankets, is a runner-sled, a thing of the past, leaning against a pale, short table. Few people comment on it, but the ones that do, remember, the winters of their childhood. Four slats of wood, a slight steering mechanism, and steel runners, in my opinion, it was the best kind of winter fun. As a child, my father would take us to Beech Hill, a steep, back road in Vermont where at the top, the wind would blow over an expanse of fields so strongly, impenetrable drifts would form across the road. But on the good days, the ones that were right after a night of snow and cold, we’d leave in the morning and pack four runners in the trunk.

Winter has a specific sound and smell. The sound is as if every noise has been dampened, turned down in volume and the smell, well, the smell is a sharp smell of cold, its biting, with a hint of frozen earth and metal undertones. We would drive the thirty minutes, winding our way along the dirt roads up past Lake Parker until we climbed up the last long road. My father would park almost in the snowbank, to make room for the wayward drivers, who, unbenounced to them had chosen one of the more difficult roads to traverse in winter season. Our cheeks would turn rosy instantly, as we began maneuvering the sleds out of the trunk while trying to maintain our footing. Salt trucks weren’t as efficient back then, making the perfect conditions for these racer sleds. The road needs to be snow slicked but compacted with an underlayer of ice for best sledding.

Now, there are two ways to ride a runner sled. First, you can hop on and use your feet to steer and hands to push off, or you can ride how I did. To begin, announce your entrance, to create onlookers for your debut, and hold the sled to your chest. Then, take off at a dead run, then right after you crest the top of the hill and you begin to descend, leap, where you will then land on your stomach and this way, you’d use your hands to steer, and my friends, you would fly. It is a singular experience, ripping down the roadway, your face scant inches from the road, then, the deep sense of knowing you find when you realize you’re going to have to ditch, bail out of the sled.

I think it’s been close to fourteen years, since I have ridden a sled, maybe longer, since I have thought about it. But, this runner-sled, leaning on a table holding scraps of flannel, probably never used, has brought me back, as it does the other people, usually adults who come in to our Johnson location, and take a second look back.

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