There have been a few kids out sledding down our street which took me back to when I started seventh grade at a new school that was close enough that I could walk home from school. That’s how I found Amalie Drive, a steep hill that seemed perfect for sledding, even though, in late August at the start of the school year, any chance of sledding seemed a long way off. And I’d also outgrown sledding, which is how I know I won’t have a “Rosebud” moment on my deathbed. I might look back wistfully at something else but it won’t be a treasured sled that I left behind when I was whisked away and sent to a boarding school by a wealthy banker, mostly because I never had a treasured sled—I had one but would only get to use it once or maybe twice a year—and also I was never sent to a boarding school.
Amalie Drive may not look like much on Google Maps, although you can see there’s a red British phone booth on the corner that’s been there since phone booths actually had phones in them. It rises gently on one side and then has a drop on the other side that’s so long and so steep I thought it would be perfect for sledding. That’s what I thought one August afternoon as I was climbing Amalie Drive on my way home, and I focused on that rather than Kevin, a school bully who’d tormented me all through sixth grade, and who was coming up Amalie behind me, although he was far enough away that I don’t think he recognized me, or maybe he just didn’t think I was worth the effort of running a quarter of a mile uphill. After that I took a different route home, cutting through yards and woods, and it was not only more scenic but less of a climb and probably shorter than sticking to the road.
As perfect as Amalie would have been for sledding it had, for me, a downside that wasn’t so great. It was far enough away from my house that it wasn’t worth dragging a sled all the way there, especially since I’d also have to drag it back uphill. Besides my next door neighbor’s backyard was almost as good: just past his driveway it sloped downward all the way to my friend Tony’s house, so I could not only sled down to see him but get him to drag the sled back up the hill with me. The neighbor was Mr. Rick, a nice guy who didn’t mind kids playing in his yard as long as we didn’t bother the pot plants he grew on his deck. Then he was killed in an accident while flying his private plane and the house was sold to another guy, Mr. Howard. Mr. Howard didn’t want kids in his yard and sometimes came out and stood on his deck with a drink in his hand and told me I’d better stay away when I was in my own yard, and I wish he’d kept Mr. Rick’s pot plants because he could really use something to mellow him out, but that’s another story.
That winter there was a big snowstorm. Like I said I’d outgrown sledding by that time but apparently Kevin hadn’t. I’m not sure why he came around to my neighborhood—it was a pretty long walk for him even when he wasn’t carrying a sled, but maybe he’d heard about this perfect hill for sledding and decided to give it a try. I was shoveling snow off my driveway. He looked over at me but I was so bundled up I don’t think he recognized me, or maybe he was too interested in sledding to bother me. He perched the sled at the top of the hill and was about to get on it when Mr. Howard stepped out, drink in hand, and yelled, “Hey kid, get out of my yard!”
Kevin’s whole body jerked and he slipped and fell a little bit down the hill.
“Didn’t you hear me?” said Mr. Howard. “Get out of here before I get my gun!”
Kevin had looked like he was about to make a smartass remark but at that threat he picked up his sled and trudged as fast as he could through the snow and left.
I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow finding that funny.