A Good Run Down (tf)

Leave it to Stevens to bring back a childhood horror. Sledding. I cringe. Literally. More on that later. First I must explain why kids play less than they used to…..aside from the variety of electronic gadgets at their disposal.

When I was a kid we went “outside”, which meant pretty much anyplace you could walk home from before it got dark. Could be across the street. Could be across the town. Parents didn’t have to worry about what we worry about today. There may have been perverts cruising around in white vans trying to talk kids inside, but I never saw any…and such things were not high on my Mom’s list of worries. She was more concerned I’d fall into a manhole or something and come home bleeding needing stitches in my head. This actually happened, but only once. See, we weren’t total morons.

Today, when I push my kids outside, it means the backyard, where they are penned in with the dog. If they’re not where I can see them from a window, my imagination conjures up dreadful things. I hate that this is so, and admit that it’s probably both overkill and overblown. But fear is so prevalent in today’s society (Twice this year the school sent home notes mentioning “suspicious” weirdos trawling the school area, and even canceled outdoor recess as a result. And a guy who works in the plant across the street from my house caused a panic when he shot and killed his girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself and blew his own head off) that I’m not about to take a stand against it with my own kids. I’ll support anyone else though.

And I live in a “nice” neighborhood. The coked-up drunk guy in the sports car only smashed through our backyard fence once all year. Missed the kid’s swing-set by 6 inches, but at least he was thoughtful enough to not do such a thing while they were swinging on it. My sister lives in West Scranton, and gunfire doesn’t even wake her anymore. Her fence is 12 feet high and she once slept on her couch with a shotgun across her chest. But such nights became rare once word got out in the hood that she was heavily armed and had instructions from her husband to shoot first and ask questions later. A 14 year old kid was recently shot in an alley yards from her back door. She read about it in the paper. She too has 2 young daughters. Like me. Outside hell. They’re lucky we don’t lock them in a bunker and slide their meals under the door.

But we were talking about sledding were we not? I think it should be banned. Ok, not banned. Perhaps regulated. Here’s why.

We used to play “up the dumps”. That’s what we called the place behind the fence behind our house. Just a big area of coal slag really…..with huge trees growing out of it (could never figure this out. How can something grow in coal?). We dumped our cut grass back there. Others less savory characters used it for old tires and beer bottles and abandoned household appliances. There were even some old rusted-out car frames up there (with blankets spread out on the backseat. Whatever would someone be doing in the backseat of a rusted-out car with a blanket? Ah youth eh? Tell me you don’t miss the naiveté….). For kids it was a paradise.

At the northeast side there was a hill that seemed to be made for sledding (actually, we used those cheap plastic toboggans. Anybody who had a real sled with the runners and everything was considered insufferably square. Plus real ones were too heavy to carry when you needed to make a quick getaway). Narrow. Steep. Long. And easy access on the sides to get back up for another ride. The only problem was that it sent you sliding into someone’s backyard….a guy who didn’t like kids all that much. So mostly we rode under cover of darkness. If he heard us he first had to turn on his back porch light, so we always had time to get away.

But of course we couldn’t see. We simply assumed that the course would always be as pristine as a waterslide. So one night I took the first turn and….well….

It could not have been an accident that at the bottom of the hill, dead-center, there was now a thick metal bar, about an inch in diameter, seemingly hammered into the ground, where it stuck up about 6 inches in the air. It was spray-painted. White.

In a way I suppose I’m lucky that my sled style was sitting, front legs spread open. Pity the poor bugger who took that ride face first.

You can probably tell where this is going.

I remember lights going off in my frontal lobe…..like artillery in a war zone. “Seeing stars” they call it, but nobody sees anything as pleasant as stars in situations such as this. Then the brain caught up. And so, pain. It was exquisite. Unexplainable to females of course, but let me try using  something Carol Burnett said about a pain unexplainable to males. Labor.

Like taking your bottom lip and pulling it over your head.

I can’t do any better explaining than that.

I don’t recall what was going through my mind as I was writhing at the bottom of that hill. Certainly the fact that my pals thought the whole scene hilarious didn’t help clear my head. I do remember a fleeting thought that if I took off my pants something vital might be missing. But my yelping and the guffaws together brought on the dreaded back-porch light, and somehow I dragged myself up and ran away like a good delinquent. I never sledded down that hill again. Curiously, neither did my friends, who might have thought it was funny but weren’t prepared to navigate what could now be a mine-field. I don’t know if the guy in the house did it on purpose or not, but if he did he’s an evil, demented genius. Just the sort of person who forces you to lock your kids in the backyard.

So way to go Stevens. Just reading your post makes me squirm. I’ll probably have nightmares tonight.

But you know what? Up until that final run, it sure was fun. And I don’t think my story is in any way universal, so watching my own kids slide down the gentle hill of our backyard, careening and spinning any which way, cheeks flushed red with health and the the snap of cold crisp air. It makes me smile. Kids being kids makes me smile. A kid’s agenda on a snow day is to have fun.


–Tom Flannery


~ by admin on January 4, 2011.

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