November 19, 2013
I have a friend who, well … to be honest, and I say this with nothing but pure certainty, he just isn’t right.
He’s not a terribly close friend, more like an acquaintance — and this may be one reason why: He loves to ski. So much so that, a couple of years ago, he actually took a week off to join some buddies in Vermont for a Christmas shoop-shoop-shoop down the slopes.
I was NOT one of those buddies. Had I been, I would have spent every waking moment sitting by the big stone fireplace, armed with a good book and gallons of hot chocolate. Not outside freezing myself into an icicle.
Last week, during the mini nor’easter that blew through the region on Tuesday night, I was relaxing at home listening to the soothing sounds of sleet falling on the metal carport just outside my back door. And a short time later, I let that sound put me to sleep.
My friend, however, was home in Clarkton — standing on his front porch harboring deeply rooted hopes that the sleet would somehow turn to snow. And wouldn’t you know it? It did … in Clarkton, at least.
Snow, to me, is one of the ultimate four-letter words.
As some of you know, and haven’t really held against me all that much, I grew up in the northeast — Upstate New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. If you aren’t familiar with Mother Nature’s antics in that area of the country, I can describe it with another four-letter word: C-R-U-D.
What that means is, between the months of November (maybe October) and April (maybe May), there is a relatively good chance you will wake up to snow and all the joys associated with it. Things like windshields iced up; sidewalks prime for a slip-sliding, tip-toeing walk; teeth-chattering rides to work, school or wherever; and an hour or two wrestling with a snow shovel — before AND after the snowplows pass by.
Like the woman in the Safeco Insurance commercial talking about her son’s motorcycle … “it is NOT fun!”
There was a time, however, when I was young and had no sense. I was about 10, and it was during this time that I joined in with all the other senseless children in the neighborhood and enjoyed the snow.
First, it usually meant we were out of school. It also meant building snowmen as tall as our little arms and a picnic table would allow, as well as some pretty cool and elaborate forts to hide in after pelting each other with snowballs. And finally, it meant riding some kind of contraption capable of sliding across snow at as close to warp speed as we could muster.
For most, sleds and toboggans and round metal saucers were the vehicles of choice. But for a few, standing on two narrow pieces of wood that had been thoroughly waxed up for maximum sliding was the thing to do. And somewhere deep in the furthest recesses of my 10-year-old mind — the Dumb Nut Region — I just had to give that a try.
So for several weeks that winter, I begged and begged my parents to get me a pair of skis for Christmas. I even talked my younger sister and brother into asking Santa to bring me skis when they sat on his lap at the local Woolworth’s store.
Ever hear the expression “be careful what you wish for” or Garth Brooks’ line “Sometimes I thank God, for unanswered prayers?” Well, I wish I’d known each of those better 47 years ago.
I got those skis on Christmas morning, and immediately gathered them up — along with the special wax kit that came with them — and raced to the basement to apply the specific wax made specially for wet snow skiing. Once done, I put on my several layers of clothing, covered with my plastic snowpants, heavy jacket, gloves and boots … and boldly marched to the top of the hill in our backyard.
That hill, today, is barely worth calling a bump. But for a 10-year-old, it was a mountain. It started near the back corner of our house and sloped down across our neighbor’s property before flattening out near the edge of some woods.
I strapped on those skis, flexed my knees a bit, grabbed the thin wooden poles, took a deep breath and pushed off. Five feet later, I was tangled up in a snowy ball on the side of that hill. I’m sure I looked like a 10-year-old Michelin Man.
Undaunted, I managed to get back to the top of that hill, clipped the skis back around my boots, squeezed the poles once again and … pushed off. This time, I stayed upright all the way down the hill. I WAS SKIING!
The terrain leveled off and … wait, where were the brakes? How would I stop? How do I steer?
And there, just 20 feet away, was a lone maple tree standing guard in front of the line of pine trees. My path was keeping me on a direct collision course with that tree. Just 2.57 seconds later … WHAMMO!
I never put skis on again — though, as a teenager, I did give snowboarding a try on something called a Snurfer.
So, this friend of mine — acquaintance, really — can dream, hope and pray for all the snow, skis and wax he likes. Honestly, he should pack up, head north on Interstate 95 and take up residence in snow country. That four-letter word is the reason I came south.
— W. Curt Vincent is the general manager and editor of the Bladen Journal. He can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.