Before cable tv and video game or internet, the onset of snow could only mean one thing in terms of entertainment: sledding. There are three particularly vivid places that I remember sledding more than one time and with large groups of people: The Pasture, Bunker Hill & Clay Cliff. Don't look on the map, they aren't there. They are places that we referred to using our OWN references.
I'll start with the pasture. It is the large expanse of grass to the south of 2nd Street where a gully ran through the lowest point of the valley there from east to west. The hill climbed into the southeast corner of the property and the grade of the slope was perfect for a good quick ride. Current residents of town would know the point I'm talking about as the very north end of the new football field and track.... if you were there you would just have to crawl over the fence to the north and you'd be right where we used to sled. As with all of the sledding spots, when we'd have large numbers of people sledding over an extended period of time, it was important to start a little bonfire. A "warm up area" is very important... essential some would say. Always at the bottom of the hill and off to the side (out of the "line of fire" of the sleds coming down the hill.)
Because of the shortness of the days in the middle of winter, It would get dark quickly in the late afternoon. If we were in the throws of a snowstorm and it was overcast, it would almost feel dark all day. I remember one particular time, it must've been a Friday or a Saturday, as we all planned for an all-day sledding extravaganza. We called everybody we knew and we told them to call everybody they knew. [side note - in Garretson, that process didn't really take too long] But we also made plans to have as many old candles there to light up the sledding hill. And that we did. It was a fun afternoon of sledding the hill during the daylight, getting the fire going, I'm sure somebody brought marshamallows and maybe even hotdogs (I seem to remember hotdogs once or twice). Once it started to get dark, we took out the candles and put them down either side of the sledding hill, sort of like a runway. The couple dozen candles flickering away worked surprisingly well for such quickly thought out idea by a bunch of kids.
This area WAS the hardest to sled, just because it wasn't very pastured out by cattle or anything, so the tall grass took a while to get packed down.... made smooth.... the first few runs went slow and not very far. But quickly thereafter, everybody would be able to zip down effortlessly. This was the shortest of the "bigger hills" that we'd use but it was also the most unique because we sledded it at night.
The other place we'd go out to was the area we referred to as "Clay Cliff". It was the area out east of the Catholic Cemetery behind Steve and Kris Frerk's place. There is a creek that runs down and eventually into the Devil's Gulch and then meets up with the Splitrock Creek. But right behind the Frerk's place, the creek was cutting into the hillside and it reated a large cutout of the hill and exposed a huge swath of clay. The creek has since been diverted to no longer cut deeper into that hill as it was starting to affect the property of the Frerks.
We would park up in the cul-de-sac (I guess somebody drove us up there... I was a kid, I don't know who did.. maybe Chris) and then walk down to where the creek just entered into the trees on it's descent into the Devil's gulch about 1/2 mile further downstream. As the creek flowed through the trees there was a series of rapids then wide and calm pools. The bonfire was set up on a small smooth area that was blocked from the wind, but on the ice nonetheless. The aforementioned marshamellows and hotdogs were there again and I seem to remember the older kids (high schoolers) even had swisher sweets. Just downstream past a little drop in the water over some rapids the first wide smooth pool of ice was a perfect place to set up a hockey rink. Some of us had brought their skates and we set up a few logs by the fire where you could sit and put the skates on. Most of us wore figure skates, not that many of us owned true hockey skates. Many of the younger kids wore white figure skates. We liked to think that the white just meant that they were for kids... or small feet.... the thought that they were "girls" skates evaded our acceptance. We had enough other issues to worry about at that age and living in a small town, worrying that wore girls skates didn't need to be an issue too.
We'd skate and play hockey, sit by the fire and do a little sledding up outside of the trees to the north. The hill was similar to the pasture in town. But this area was typically trafficked by cows more so the grass was shorter and much easier to develop a sledding area. The trek back into town would be colder and longer, even with a car waiting... maybe it was because we were sweatier from skating and hockey or something, but I do remember being chilled to the bone and trying to sit by the fire until Chris and Matthew were ready to go, but not really feeling much better until I got home.
The last place that much of the town would sled at, and I don't remember going out there too often, was Bunker Hill. I'm not sure if it really has a name or not, but it's the big hill out by the Hight's place just south of the Lutheran Cemetery... essentially the hill on the south east corner of town. It was a horse pasture and was ready for sledding as soon as we showed up. I remember one particular big day of sledding when it seemed like half the town was out there. Young and old, all different kinds of sleds, snow-mobiles and a big bonfire. The snowmobiles were essentially our "ski-lift" they had tow ropes and would drag sleds to the top, sometimes a couple at a time. Sometimes those rides were the best part of the loop!
The sledding hill was one of the longest I ever sledded on. It's almost too bad that the town never created some sort of winter recreation area out there and utilized it that way. I could see a tubing hill or something with an ice rink at the bottom for people to use. Open on weekends or something. Just me and my brain working on crazy ideas.
One thing that I forgot to mention is that Matthew and I would most often cross country ski to the sledding locations. Our family was a "cross country skiing family". I don't know when or how my parents started in on the cross country ski kick, but our whole family ski'd. I know I started when I was about 5 or 6. We'd blaze a trail through town on fresh snow... down to the park then back home. Dad would go first then Chris then Matthew... Mom would stay back and keep me company and I'm sure we'd usually turn around and head home early (again... I usually got cold quick... I was such a wuss.)
So out to the sledding spots we'd go, or to the river for skating skates hanging off our necks, swinging heavily back and forth as we tried to ski smoothly to our desitanation. At times, we'd also bring snow shovels to clear the ice... it seems like we'd spend half the time or more just doing that. The rest of the time we'd probably spend trying to gather firewood and get a fire going. It was a never ending quest... most of the wood laying around the river being broken branches and big sticks that would burn quickly.
Winter fun meant a lot to me as a kid. It was this sort-of deep drive or quest to continually find the perfect place to skate and sled. Remembering it now feels like it was so perfect all the time. But then I remember the little details that made the whole endeaver painful. The cold of the wind whipping through the snowmobile suits with the worn knees. The ski mask caked with ice around the wet nose and mouth area. The chill inside the layers of clothes from the sweat saturating every square inch against our bodies. The thin gloves not offering enough warmth for very long and if you had thick warm gloves or mittens, they'd be drenched from sweat on the inside and getting cold quickly. The snow that would creep into the tops of the boots and you'd need to take them off from time to time and empty them out. The soreness of the ankles from skating for too long or the frozen toes from skating too long in skates that were too tight or just too small.
Getting home couldn't come soon enough when you were in a condition like that. You know you could get home and have some hot chocolate. Maybe mom and dad would have a fire in the fireplace already going, I would get home and bring the stuff inside that was wet and caked with ice and snow. Trod in the side door and down to the basement where we'd hang our stuff if it was all wet: near the drain in the furnace room where mom's washer and dryer were until later when we remodeled a bit and put them upstairs.There was a rack dad had built for the skis to be placed as well. Up against the wall at the bottom of the stairs in the basement. Five pairs of skis hanging flat against the wall, a ski pole looped onto each tip of a ski. Those 10 orange ski's lined up biggest to smallest, like an orange picket fence.
Once the wet clothes were off and stuff hung up, it was back up the stairs for a little warm food or drink... go sit by the fire.... or wrap in a blanket and lie on the floor and just watch tv. Face red from the blood flushing back into it... hair all amuss from sweating under a hat all day. Just lay there.... and warm up. Lay on that field of green shag carpet and fall off to sleep for a quick nap listening to the 6 o'clock news or maybe 60 minutes. The best place to be was home. Always was. Always will be. Home is where you hang your skis.
I'm just a creative guy that's looking to throw all this spaghetti onto the wall and hope something sticks.