Winter has officially arrived and with it the prospect of snow. Of course, this delights children and is a bone of contention for adults. Roads are slippery and dangerous, and the winter sport of sledding is fun, but also treacherous and unsafe.
Looking back to the 1940s, the city of Harlan and surrounding neighborhoods were loaded with families who had a great number of school age children. When a big winter storm blew in and blanketed the hills and streets with snow and ice, it was a cause for jubilation.
Ivy Hill Road, Ivy, Mound, Second and Williams streets were all routes for sleds. It was possible back then, when there was relatively little traffic on those thoroughfares after dark, for a sleigh-rider to coast from the top of Ivy Hill all the way to Cumberland Avenue, via Ivy or Mound streets, or all the way to May Street in Fairview by turning sharply at “Leighton’s Curve,” then hanging another left at the corner of Mound and Williams streets.
It wasn’t uncommon for the older boys to build a bonfire in a 55-gallon oil drum on Ivy Street near the retaining wall above the Whitfield property. The fire’s purpose was to warm cold hands through wet gloves or mittens and to thaw nearly frozen feet through leather boots or rubber galoshes.
Coasting methods varied. Some riders sat upright and guided their sleds with their feet, while others belly-flopped on their sleds and rode down the ice-glazed streets dragging their toes to reduce speed and shifting their weight to avoid collisions. All too often though, a second rider belly-flopped on the back of the first rider, which frequently led to an upset in the snow, a crash against a curb or a more serious accident. When the two-man ride succeeded, however, nothing could be more fun and exciting, but quite frequently it ended in a spill or worse. Accidents were inherent in the sport and taken for granted.
My own brother, Edwin, witnessed a rather serious accident on Ivy Street. Jane Anderson had finished her run and was walking back up the hill in the middle of the track. A loaded bobsled hit her full speed right about the knees. She somersaulted into the air. Those involved carried her to Dr. E.M. Howard’s house which was nearby, and he took whatever measures were necessary for her full recovery. After the incident, my mother, who was opposed to nighttime sledding, remarked with pursed lips and arms akimbo, “It’s a thousand wonders she wasn’t killed.”
I recall two accidents which resulted in bashed-in mouths and broken teeth. My sister, Datter, steered a sled underneath a parked car while her piggy-back passenger, Freida Lewis, crashed into the car’s bumper. The damage to her lip and mouth was extensive. She bore the scar into adulthood.
Bobby Springer Hoskins also rearranged his teeth as a result of a sledding mishap on the Baptist Church slope near his home on Cumberland Avenue.
As for my own skill at guiding a sled, it was nil. I didn’t own a sled, not even a small “Eskimo” or a $9.75 “Flexible Flyer.” For a thrilling ride down the icy tracks, I was dependent on others, mostly the older boys who were classmates of my brothers and sister. Riding with them had a great advantage. Afterwards, I didn’t have to pull the sled back up to the top of the hill.
Those wintry fun times were accompanied by frozen fingers and toes, tingling cheeks and chapped lips. In spite of my mother’s protestations, she usually had a large pot of hot chocolate with marshmallows waiting for us when we came home exhausted and shivering
. And more likely than not, she had put a hot water bottle in our beds. Still, in retrospect, there was a great deal of truth and wisdom in my mother’s plaintive sigh, “It’s a thousand wonders all of you weren’t maimed… or worse.”