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Wild ride (12/29/2010)
By John Edstrom

After the snow started to fall in December, and before Christmas, I began to notice brightly colored plastic items – giant trays and saucers? – left in discreet places about the house and garage. It being the Christmas season, when one is long-trained to suppress the natural curiosity aroused by strange packages, I did not examine them closely. When the grandchildren showed up on Christmas Day, the gawdy plastic turned out to be new-fangled coasters, nothing like the sleds and toboggans of years ago, but the second generation of those cheap, aluminum saucers that began replacing the more romantic wooden items back in the ‘60s.

On the day after Christmas, with the tots bundled up like Eskimos, Cass and Angie floundered through the waist high snow in the backyard and laid out several sliding courses ranging from bunny level to the death-defying, double-black diamond run from the highest and steepest part of the property down over a natural berm, and then into the bowl by the back entrance to the house. After several warm-up runs it fell to grandpa, (survival instincts somewhat addled by luncheon Bloody Marys), to attempt the inaugural trip down the double diamond track with little Peyton, the four-year-old, in his lap. She had never in life done this, nor I in many decades. At the moment of no return when our downward progress began, vivid memories of the totally unanticipated speed and uncontrollable trajectory of sliding vehicles overwhelmed me – too late. We did a 360, hit the berm, popped into the air, and arrived with a thump at the bottom of the course, backwards, snow stuffed up sleeves and down collars. Peyton shrieked with tears and laughter, the mingled terror and exhilaration of the ride a short lesson on life in this world. For me, there was a bruised tailbone, not the first one incurred from participating in winter sports.

When I was not too much older than Peyton, we used to take our sleds and toboggans out to the old Winona Country Club where there were wonderful long, steep hills for sliding on the fourth and fifth holes, back when the course was just a nine. The hill on the par five fourth was steepest, but had the disadvantage of finishing pretty close to the creek. A particularly fast run might land you in it, which could make for a long, shivery afternoon, waiting for a ride home that might not be arriving for hours. No cell phones in those days.

A more civilized ride could be had on what is now the twelfth hole, down the steep hill 150 yards out from the green, which was then surrounded by grass bunkers. A well-waxed four man toboggan might hit one of those at full speed and catch some serious air before touching down on the snow-covered green. One snowy Sunday afternoon conditions were just right, with the low January sun allowing the tracks down the hill to freeze in the lengthening shadows. Our fearless church group chaperone, Cy Sievers, packed three of us behind him on a heavy old oak toboggan and down the hill we flew at what seemed record speed. We hit the berm and were airborne for so long that I, eyes clamped shut, finally concluded that somehow we had never left the ground. At that moment we slammed down with such force that everyone flew up into the air again as if we had hit a land mine. We were all stunned. Nobody said a thing until Mr. Sievers had gotten up and stumbled a few steps, bent over, hand on his back. “I think I’ll wait for you kids in the car,” he said, and staggered off. Later that week we heard that he had cracked a couple of vertebrae.



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