When I was a kid in upstate NY, an impending snowstorm brought with it a myriad of questions. Dare I hope for a snow day? Will it be deep enough to get the sleds out and build snow forts? What about consistency? Snowballs and forts and snowmen all need good packing snow, not that fluffy powder the skiiers favor. I remember waking up early, and reaching over for the radio to listen for the list of lucky kids who would be snuggling back under the covers for a while, and then rushing through breakfast to make the most of the bliss. The alphabetized drama would begin, and I’d be holding my breath. A..B…come on, come on…a little more…Finally! The G’s! Would it be…could it be…YES! Guilderland School districts closed! The elation would rush through me, and I would gleefully turn off the alarm and turn back over, drifting back into my dreamland of an icy cold playground.
After breakfast, come the phone calls. “You coming?” “Yeah, twenty minutes.” OK, meet you outside.” “Do NOT forget to pee!” “DUH!” Then off to the closet — jeans first, with a tshirt and a sweatshirt. Two pairs of socks, of course, followed by empty bread bags. (Don’t knock it — my feet stayed warm and dry ever single time!) Then into snow pants, boots, coat, hat, scarf, and mittens. Out the door, grab the sled, and we were off.
In the huge expanse of wood that ran through our neighborhood, there was a hill that was either exceedingly perfect or ungodly stupid for sledding, depending on if you were a child or an adult. It was known by both sects as “Dead Man’s Hill.” Dramatic, yes, but there were scads of injuries every year on that hill, ranging from a busted leg to a black eye. As for me, I counted one sprained shoulder, one black eye, countless bruises ans scrapes, and a nearly broken wrist. The track was probably 10 feet wide, and was lined on both sides with trees. The hill had a rise in the middle that we would build up with extra snow, and would smooth it down and pour water over it to make a spectacular jump. It was a masterpiece every year, and there was nothing in the world like the feeling of flying down that hill, hitting the jump, and sailing through the air, landing at the bottom and skidding into the bank that prevented us from hitting the trees that backed up to someone’s yard. Hours were spent there, injuries washed and dressed with snow to keep the swelling down, until everyone headed home to be back by dark.
Wet clothes were stripped off and hung, kettles were put on for cocoa, and much laughter was heard as the day’s events were recounted. “Did you see Patty’s wipe out? Man, I thought she was gonna take her own head off on that branch!” As a parent, I now look back on those days and my heart nearly stops at the idea of my own kids flinging themselves with reckless abandon into the sort of exhilaration that only comes from being a few inches from death or dismemberment. The cavalier attitude towards my own personal safety that I had as a child astounds me, for no other reason than for the fact that I escaped relatively unscathed. I definitely have some scars, and some memories of waking up the next day in some really obnoxious pain, but we somehow survived.
Now that my own kids wait anxiously for the news of a snow day, I watch their anticipation with amusement, much the same as I’m sure every other parent does. Their jubilation at a “free” day, despite the fact that we rarely have enough snow to build a snowman, much less a fort. And strangely, as cognizant as I am of the grave dangers I put myself in, one of my biggest regrets as a parent for “things I wish my kids could’ve experienced” is that they have never really gone sledding.