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December 2, 2013

There's no tough sledding when you're a youngster|

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The Daily Star

---- — Winter weather is here. And so are outdoor winter activities.

I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that I am too old for many strenuous outdoor activities. Too tall to strap on a pair of ice skates. Too heavy to snowshoe. Too lazy to snowmobile and to cheap to ski.

But I do like a nice stroll around the neighborhood on a mild snowy evening. Does that count?

My favorite thing to do when I was a kid was sledding. I was lucky in that I lived just a block from the best sledding hill in my hometown, the one behind the high school. It was straight down, wide open and emptied into a usually very slick parking lot. My friends and I had very few options for sledding apparatus. Our trusty snow steed was a Flexible Flyer we bought at the Western Auto store downtown.

In my day, the sled was a vital part of getting through the cold upstate winters. Mine was long and made out of polished wood slats. The name Flexible Flyer was written down the center in red script under the image of an eagle.

The runners were also red and were very sharp. They eventually always rusted (despite our constantly rubbing them with Ivory soap to make them slicker and faster). When rusty, these runners could offer up a nasty gash to the lackadaisical sledder. Of course, the rust component always meant Mom would drag you to Doc Hust (“just to make sure”).

The crossbar on the front was a brilliant design. By slightly twisting and bending the crossbar you’d achieve remarkable mobility for such a simple object. On a hard-packed surface the steering was much more reliable that that of your father’s old Nash Rambler trying to make it through an unplowed village street.

There were two ways to operate the sled. One was to sit straight up on it and hold the rope like the reins of a horse while coming down the hill, pulling the crossbar from one side to the other.

I never knew any of my friends to sled in this fashion.

No, if you were a real sled guy, you laid flat down, head near the front, hands grasping the crossbar, legs dangling far out the back with your knees bent up so as not to drag your feet in the snow. In fact, the only time you ever let your feet down was when you had to brake the sled immediately if a car or another sled appeared in front of you. Then it was “drag and ditch” time as the sled propelled onward and you tucked and rolled out of danger.

It was exhilarating.

The one thing that really sticks to my mind about zooming down the high school hill on my Flexible Flyer was the danger in it all. Of course, this is from a perspective of a 64-year-old man looking back a half-century through rose-colored glasses.

Just imagine. You’re high on a hill, laying prone on a piece of polished wood that rests atop two rapier-sharp, properly soaped runners. A buddy (the wingman) would usually come by and give out with a mighty shove and send you careening on your way. The wind would rush into your hat’s ear flaps, causing a whistle to drown out all other sound. Your hands would grip the crossbar as you deftly maneuvered your snow rocket down the slope. Faster and faster you went. For sure you let out a scream somewhere along the ride, probably something like a mighty “yeee-haaw!”

Your eyes would mist over and your fingers became ice claws clenched around the crossbar. Your face was no more than four inches above the frozen ground hurtling under you. A frozen tear carved its way down your glassy cheeks. Your knees ached at being bent in such an unnatural angle for so long. Your neck was pinched as you tried to look up through the wintry debris crashing all around you.

And then you saw it. The parking lot! You gave a slight tug of the crossbar, lowered your head, hit the snow berm where the hill ended and went sailing (in slow motion, of course) through the air and then landed with Olympic perfection in a spin out in the middle of the parking lot.

What a time it was. No snowboards. No tubing. No luge blasters. No toboggans. Just a boy, a hill, and a Flexible Flyer.

OK, now I’m ready for that leisurely stroll around the neighborhood.

I’ll catch you in two ...

“Big Chuck” D’IMPERIO can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7 to 9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.” You can find him on Facebook by searching “Big Chuck.” He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.