Editor’s note: This column originally published on Dec. 24, 2009.
I come from the land of the ice and snow. I loved the weather in Minneapolis as a kid because it was all I knew.
But I have to play outside. Take the outdoors away and I’ll (A) wither up and die or (B) stay inside and write on message boards.
Since I don’t ice fish, skate or play hockey, drive snowmobiles, tow trucks or a Zamboni, I’d rather play outside in Charlotte than on the tundra.
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But the tundra isn’t all bad. I was walking through a Charlotte sporting goods store Wednesday and saw a sled. You guys don’t know what you’re missing.
Sliding is one of the great joys of youth because of the freedom it confers.
You don’t know how fast you’ll go or how straight or where you’ll land. You get bored staying between the lines so you take chances and you crash.
These days, lesser parents see their mangled kids and look for somebody to sue. We’d come home torn and frayed and our parents would hand us hot chocolate with marshmallows and we’d watch Fran Tarkenton scramble and be fine.
I got a really good sled one Christmas, five wooden slats atop two red metal rails.
Our house was full of relatives, relatives that included Aunt Ethel, who would ignore the conveniently placed crackers and run her long and prehistoric fingernails through the cheese dip.
I had four brothers and we all took turns talking to her because we were good kids and because our mom made us. We contended that because she used her fingernails we didn’t have to, but our mom said we did. Since I was the oldest, I went last.
When my turn came, I happened to be on 45th Street, pulling my sled behind me, working my way toward the park. Many of my friends were there. They also had new sleds and old aunts.
As cool as our sleds were, we quickly tired of them. A friend for some reason had a rope, and he and I decided to tie our sleds together and go down the biggest and widest of the hills side by side.
We sailed down the worn groove past oak trees and pine trees and kids walking up hill. The rope made us faster; we were like race cars drafting at Daytona International Speedway. Jimmie Johnson, what you got?
The closer we came to the bottom, the faster we went. We both rode on our stomachs and I happened to lift my head and see, on the snow-covered tennis court at the bottom of the hill, one of the posts to which tennis players would tie their tennis net.
I realized my buddy would go on one side of the post and I would go on the other.
Gosh, I wondered. What will happen?
I knew then that science, physics and mathematics would not be involved in whatever I did for a living.
I looked at my friend and he looked at me. Then the rope hit the post. The rope stretched, the sleds stopped and we didn’t. Because we were on our stomachs, we stayed there, Junior Supermen, flying, arms extended. It’s a bird, it’s a plane - no, it’s a moron.
Gravity had its way with us and we slammed into the hard snow above the hard court.
We laid there, numb and hurt. Finally we spoke. Are you dead? I don’t think so because I’m talking. Are you? No, because I’m talking, too.
We peeled ourselves off and stood up, talked about how much fun we had and promised we would do it again.
If we get any snow this year, I will buy a sled and a rope, and if I can find an accomplice, I promise I will.
Five late, great sports gifts to give or get:
1. A football. If you have $89.99, you can buy a Duke, all quality leather with Commissioner Roger Goodell’s name inscribed on the side. One touch and you’ll remember every good game you ever had. If you have yet to have it, you’ll feel as if, with this ball in your hand, there’s still time.
2. A mountain bike. Sports take turns being wildly popular and cycling is next. A turn here, a jump there and you’re free as you want to be – provided you spend at least $600 for a bike on which you can depend.
3. A Ping Pong table. I saw one Wednesday for $149.99. Chop, slam, move around, play doubles or singles. The game is surprisingly athletic. But you don’t have to be.
4. A basketball. Saw one for $45, saw one for $16. The beauty of basketball is you don’t need anybody else to play. Try that with football or baseball.
5. A sled. I saw one for $29.99. But it was too flimsy. And if I had bought it, Charlotte would never experience snow again. I couldn’t do that to the creative kids in my neighborhood who, once or twice a year, sail down the local hill on sleds, saucers, cardboard and dry-erase boards.