Who can remember their first Flexible Flyer? The shiny red rails, the smooth wood slats with the steering rudder out front, truly an American Institution, no kid’s Winter was complete without one. Mine was a gift on Christmas Morning from my Grandpa John and I still remember the absolute joy in discovering that beautiful sled was for me!
Back in the day, we used to get some serious snow here in New Jersey. In fact, I believe if you look up the Winter of ’77-’78 you will find some epic snow totals. I was 5, the perfect age for sleigh riding. The stories my sisters would tell me of being pulled behind the car through the streets of our little town were legendary in my mind. Grandpa John at the wheel, my sisters screaming with glee and terror all at the same time, riding there Flexible Flyers and holding on for dear life to the rope tied to the back of the car. Man that sounded like fun and now it was my turn to join that club.
Now we lived in a small railroad town, nice and flat and one square mile, not a sleigh-riding hill in sight. Grandpa John was an engineer and in his free time did some well testing on the side in the surrounding towns. Up the road from us was Green Brook, the nicer town, and they had a golf course. You had to be a member of course to use their facilities, but Grandpa John did the well testing in the area and knew the back way in. We would drive up the hill and park down a small dead end, near a house where Grandpa John had tested the well. From there it was just a short walk through the woods to the back of the golf course where there was the most glorious sleigh riding hill I had ever seen.
Carrying my sled like a small 5 year old might, awkwardly, I approached the edge of the hill. My sisters went racing by me, getting a running jump, before leaping onto their sleds and flying down that hill, squealing with glee. I couldn’t wait to join in. I brought my sled to the edge of the hill and delicately sat on my brand new sled. I grabbed the rope and put my feet in the steering position and then, nothing. I gave my sled a few good scooches without any success. My face starting to turn red with frustration, my sisters were quickly approaching the top of the hill, ready for their second run. They said something to me, and I expressed my frustration at not being able to get going. So they did what any good sisters would do, they shoved me down that hill with a nice running start.
Wow! What a feeling! Terrifying, exhilarating, thrilling and just plain scary, I went flying down that hill. There was a small bump at the bottom that I hadn’t seen from the top and I was heading straight for it. I slammed my left foot as hard as I could on that steering rudder, but it was far too late. Me and my Radio Flyer went into the air and I ended up in a pile of hats and mittens with my beautiful sled somewhere nearby. But this was my first Grandpa John sledding trip and I couldn’t be done already, so I picked myself up and grabbed the rope of my sled. Looking up the hill, I could see Grandpa John, hand over his eyes, looking down the hill at me. I waved, all’s well, and made my way back up.
Walking up the sleigh riding hill is a lot less fun than flying down, but my little legs finally got me there. By now, Grandpa John had built a small fire and had some marshmallows for roasting. I like mine perfectly browned and squishy in the middle, my sister Dee prefers hers burnt to the crisp. We spent a couple of hours there sledding, folks would come and join in. I spent the afternoon going slightly slower. I even tried going face first! What a thrill. But the ride I remember most was with Grandpa John.
He got on my new sled face first and told me to climb on top. I scrambled my way up there and wrapped my arms around his neck. He pushed off with his toes and away we went! The snow flying in my face, the air was crisp and cold. The ride was fast and longer than I thought possible. We went around the bump and almost into the woods, laughing all the way. I can remember Grandpa John’s smile.