Snow Speed

My family was stationed at a base in Goeppingen, Germany in the early 70’s when my father was in the Army, as I’ve said before. Germany is a very beautiful country. Yesterday’s blog entry spoke about the incredible forested areas that dot the country side. There’s a reason that so many of the old fairy tales are set in Germany– it’s full of so many giant, gnarled trees full of character and history– it’s a perfect setting. And all the seasons in Germany seemed to be at extremes to my young eyes. Maybe it was because of my youth. Maybe it’s because my jaded view of the world has dulled my appreciation of the differences in the seasons– but I don’t really think that’s the case. Germany just seemed to be so naturally beautiful.

The winters in the area of Germany we lived were just amazing. Winter would bring lots of thick blanketing snow that would stay around mostly until the spring warmth would cast it out. It was very cold in Germany in the winter and the bitter cold would harden the snow to a terrific thick shell that made for some of the best sledding that I’d ever experienced. The base we lived on was also an amazing arena for sledding when snow conditions were right because it was set up in a series of descending steps that led downward from the apartment building I lived in, to the school we attended at the bottom– upward to the barracks and base military buildings at the other height. With this lay of the land, the speed we could build up heading downward over each “step” over the frozen, hardened snow was dizzying.

One particular clear day, with the neighborhood kids all out indulging in flying down the hill on their sleds, my little brother and I went out to join in. The conditions were perfect– and I lay down flat on the sled, facing forward to guide the sled with my hands with my brother sitting on the backs of my legs. I was around 9, and he was around 4, so he felt very light (and when you’re a kid, having a youngster sitting on the backs of your legs is nothing. Now, at 41, I can’t even squat down and sit on my own heels for more than 10 seconds or so without my joints screaming at me). We took off, and immediately built up a fantastic head of steam. We were moving incredibly fast and shrieking with delight. We headed down, down, down the stepped levels of each successive cluster of apartment buildings– down toward the school. When we neared the school, I decided to jump one particular drop that looked not quite so steep. It wasn’t so much one of the large “steps” that served as the base for buildings as it was just an isolated drop that was next to a sidewalk leading to the school. As we headed over that drop at breakneck speed, I saw with horror that there was a manhole cover at the bottom. I don’t know what made me react so quickly, but I managed to kick my brother off the back of the sled before I went fully over my self. I hit the manhole cover with a sickening thud as I was driven into it face-first. This was the first time I came close to being knocked out. I remember turning over, dazed and numb– and seeing a crowd of kids standing over me. The were gasping with shock and horror– and I realized why when I reached up to feel the left side of my face (which took the brunt of the impact). It felt oddly warm and sticky, and when I pulled my hand back, my palm was covered in blood. That’s when I started to howl.

I howled all the way back home, as my tiny brother and a couple of other kids pulled me back on the sled to be tended by my shocked but nurturing mother. Rather than chide me for the stupidity of my injury– which was what I was afraid would greet me– she was very comforting and caring. She thought that the side of my face had been torn off and that I would need some sort of surgery– but I guess the healing powers of youth took care of things, because I came through it with little or no scarring. I think that was the first time I came to realize that there existed the possibility that something horrible could happen to me at any given time– that I wasn’t invulnerable. I don’t know if I kicked my brother off the sled before hurtling into that manhole cover as a way of protecting him, or if something deep down in me knew that if I didn’t, he may have landed on me and made the coming damage even worse. Either way, I’m glad I did.

And I don’t think I did much sledding after that.


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