A Trip To The Shore – Part 2

Wildwood, New Jersey – July 2021

Friday

The next morning I woke up upstairs in the apartment on the second floor of the shore house. This used to be where my father lived. This may be the bed he slept in for all I know. The apartment still has the 70s vibe and the walls are covered in wood paneling. I kind of like that it reminds me of a time in the past when life was simpler.

I looked at my phone at it was 5:30 am. Early. I looked at the weather app and it said sunrise was at 5:45. I knew I had 15 minutes to walk the block and a half to the beach to see the sunrise. I hadn’t seen a sunrise in I don’t know how long. It may have been the late 70s or early 80s but it was probably after I’d stayed out all night with some woman.

It’s always cooler at the shore. The heat was unbearable in Philly in July, but even when it’s blazing outside, there’s always a breeze at the shore. I threw on some clothes and quietly headed out. My sister’s husband had already left because he was going out on a fishing boat for the day with his brother or a friend.

I walked down the street towards the beach. Some of the properties have remained the same. The old-time, small clapboard shore houses. But many of the properties on the island have been torn down and transformed into massive condo complexes. It’s kind of sad because the architecture is part of the essence of a town. Being all built up like this sort of ruins the aesthetic of the community.

What was once a landscape dotted with little shore homes has now been mostly replaced by buildings that take up the entire property. Case in point: next door to the shore house was once a little one-story home. It was cute and perfect for the block like the other homes. But it’s been torn down and a massive three-story building is going up on that property. This completely blocks the air and the view of the sea from my sister’s place. So that’s another thing ruined. When you look out any window in the house now on that side all you’ll see is someone else’s gigantic house right in your face.

Where there were once motels all designed in the classic doo-wop design, are now massive properties and condos. Gone are all of the tourists that would stay at those motels each summer. The sound of people coming and going, and kids laughing and splashing around in the pools and music playing… all gone. It’s very quiet down there now. It looks nice and clean, but a huge part of the look and feel of the place is long gone.

I get to the beach and there are a few people around ready to see what I’m about to witness. I live in Philly. There are no sunrises to see. I’m surrounded by huge towers of steel and glass. It’s a city. They all look the same. It’s the neighborhoods and local businesses that make a city. They give it a personality. Wildwood has lost a lot of its personality.

The beach has retained its natural beauty. That timeless place for millions of years has done the same thing. The moon’s gravitational pull makes the waves lap the beach turning rock into sand over time.

I approach the lifeguard chair here on the 8th street beach. The chair is a timeless symbol of the seashore. The guards sit in the summer sun and go from tan to brown through the season. The protectors who sit and watch that no one drowns on their watch.  The lifeguard persona is like a fireman. A protector, and yet, fit and admired by the women and girls who would flock to the beach each summer.

As I get closer to the chair, I notice a little plaque on the back of one of the horizontal stabilizing beams on this one. I take a closer look to read the inscription.

I don’t have any idea who John Steiger is, but the plaque on the right is a memorial to my father.

My dad loved the beach and being at the seashore. He’d been coming here during his childhood and then in the 60s with mom and the kids, and then bought the house in the 70s. He was never a lifeguard but always made friends with the guards and liked swimming in the sea. He was a social guy and I suppose he enjoyed the whole vibe of the beach scene. If they gave him a plaque I’m assuming he was an annual contributor to the Wildwood Beach Patrol over the years.

Whatever happened, it was nice to be standing here at almost 60 years old on the beach that held so many fond memories from my youth. I hadn’t stood on this beach in many decades. At least this was unchanged. You can’t move or build on the Atlantic Ocean, so it remains the same. That’s comforting. It made me smile to see my father’s name on that chair. It put him there with me for a few moments.

There’s an orange glow in the sky and upon the sea where the Earth will turn towards its nearest star to welcome a new day.

I’m happy to be here today to witness this daily event that we all take for granted. Life is good right now. I’m at the shore. There’s no stress in my life, I have my health and I really can’t complain about anything right now.

Like a shiny new penny, the sun begins to rise from the sea. It’s really beautiful. I see a couple off in the distance by the shoreline. They are but silhouettes and embrace each other as the golden disc rises before them. I smile and think back to when I fell in love every week back in the 70s in Wildwood.

More tomorrow!

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Base Camp

This was the only photo I could find online of what our little tents looked like, but you get the idea.

Philadelphia, PA – 1976

One of the things we used to like to do was to make tents in our backyard. This was accomplished by finding some large sheets and old blankets.

Back then many people had a washer in their basement but not a dryer. My mom would hang our clothes to dry on lines strung across the front of the basement, and in nicer weather, she’d hang them on the line in the backyard.

The clotheslines were always up in the backyard in the warmer months. I don’t remember who came up with the idea of fabricating our little tent out there. We located a few old raggedy sheets and blankets and went to work. We hung the edge of one sheet to the clothesline and clipped it in place with clothespins. Then we did the same thing on the other side with another sheet. Now with both securely fastened to the overhead line, we spread them out and drove broken wooden clothespins into the corners on the sheets into the ground. Once tacked down securely we had ourselves a tent. We spread a couple of blankets on the grass on the tent floor, and we were good to go.

Like the forts, we used to build back the tracks and in the woods nearby, I think we just liked having our little places to hideaway. Kids like getting into little shelters and dens. I think it’s almost instinctual for humans to find and build shelters.

I brought out a transistor radio and we were all set. We just hung out in there, listening to the radio and smoking cigarettes.

My friend Michael and I asked our moms if we could sleep out there all night. The yard was fenced in, but anybody could come along and open it at any time. But the idea of sleeping outside all night intrigued us.

When you’re a kid you always have guidelines put forth by your parents regarding the clock. You always had to be home at a certain time for dinner, and if you were out at night you had to be in by the time the streetlights came on.

But this was an opportunity to not go inside that night. We would be free when the whole neighborhood was inside their homes asleep in bed. We’d be outside all night and didn’t have to go to bed if we didn’t want to. We could stay up all night if we wanted to.

Everybody enjoyed listening to the radio back then. Especially the two rock stations in Philly. WYSP 94 and WMMR 93.3. FM was king and other than having an older sibling it was the only way we found new music back then. I think anyone from that era can attest to the fact that they found their favorite bands and songs on FM radio on one of the aforementioned radio stations.

But kids and teens mostly listen to the radio during the day. What sort of music was played on those stations late at night? Well, whatever the overnight DJ wanted to play. So we discovered some new music that night but one struck us a little harder than any of the others.

The late-night DJ had said they were going to play an entire album by a band called Pink Floyd. We had only heard the song, “Money” on the radio. We didn’t know much else about the band. But now we were going to hear the whole Dark Side of the Moon album at midnight.

It was really quiet at night being outside, and frankly, it was a little spooky. Just the sound of crickets chirping and the occasional bark from some lonesome canine in the distance.

The DJ started the record at midnight and we were amped to hear some Floyd. If you’ve ever heard that record, and I’m assuming you have, it starts very quietly. So we turned up the radio to hear the song a bit better. It starts to build and build until it’s that rotating metallic sound and then that scream happens.

Well, that completely caught us off guard and terrified us. We were already spooked by the general vibe of the night and our imaginations were running a bit wild. But then the song settles down into the song, “Breathe” and we chilled out. It turned out to be an amazing experience even though neither of us had ever smoked marijuana and wouldn’t even try it for another year or so.

We were out there for hours through the night and really couldn’t and didn’t want to fall asleep. It was just fun to be up and doing what we wanted with zero parents or rules.

But then we heard some strange noises coming from the east. It sounded like something crunching or being broken, and it appeared to be coming from somewhere up the block from us. Then we heard some voices. We put our sneakers on and went to investigate. By now it was around 4 am.

We quietly exited the tent and opened the gate. We crept down the driveway and out to the street. It was eerie to be standing out on the sidewalk in front of my house at this hour. The whole neighborhood was as quiet as a morgue.

We heard the noise again and started to walk up the block towards Oakley Street. By the time we got up there, we saw the fire department had arrived and it looked like the Zerbach’s garage was on fire. They were putting it out and I wondered why I never heard any sirens. But I figured they addressed the problem and didn’t want to wake the whole neighborhood.

The authorities were really surprised to see a couple of boys out there at that hour of the night. We told them we had been sleeping in a tent out in my backyard, heard the commotion, and came to check it out. We told the firemen what we had heard but I don’t think we were much help. (When I think about this now, I’m glad we weren’t blamed for whatever happened!)

We eventually went back to our tent and laid down inside, talking about the events of the night. We never found out what or who caused the fire but it was the topic of conversation around the neighborhood for about a week after that.

I don’t think we ever slept the entire night. Mike went home at daybreak and I went into my house too. (My mom left the backdoor unlocked in case we bailed during the night and I wanted to come in.)

My mother was awake and in the kitchen. I told her what had happened and she asked me if I wanted to go up to my room and sleep. That was exactly what I wanted to do because I was exhausted from staying up all night.

We pitched a few more tents like that through the Spring and even made one in Mike’s neighbor’s yard one night. (We couldn’t do it in his yard because they had a big above ground pool) His neighbor Mr. Hersch was nice enough to let us camp in his yard for the night.

I went to Wildwood for the Summer and we didn’t make any more tents in the yard anymore after that, but I’m glad we had the experience.

Just stuff you do as a kid that’s all part of experiencing life.

 

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10 Reasons To Date A Redhead

In a study done at The University of Hamburg, it was discovered that redhead ladies love getting hot in the bedroom department more than women with any other hair colour. You heard right guys!

Redheads tend to have a soft milky complexion, which means they not only look stunning but they feel great to cuddle up to.

This summer freckles have been a beauty trend, people have actually been drawing them on! If you are lucky enough to date a redhead then the sun will bring out totally natural and beautiful freckles.

Redheads make up 5% of the world’s population. This makes them pretty unique compared to the rest of us.

If you are lucky enough to date a redhead with blue eyes you have struck gold as this is a very rare combo! It might be time to buy a lottery ticket…

You will never have to worry about them losing their vibrant hair colour as natural red hair doesn’t grey like other colours of hair.

The fea­r of losing your date in a busy crowd will become a thing of the past if you are dating a redhead. Their fiery locks will always let you know where they are!

If you love to have a good laugh on a date then redheads are for you. Due to being teased at school, they tend to develop a good sense of humour.

Red hair has become rather popular in recent years with lots of people faking it. Think how good you will feel knowing you are dating the real deal!

Redheads are so awesome that they are celebrated all over the world by entire days dedicated to them.

So to conclude, redheads are feisty, sexy, funny, rare and we LOVE them!

 

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You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Wildwood Daze – Gone Fishing

Wildwood, New Jersey – The early 70s

Once my parents had acquired the house at the shore, they quickly fell into the lifestyle. Days at the beach for mom and the girls, and dad taking up surf fishing. I don’t know exactly when he started getting into fishing, but I remember what he normally did when approaching something new. He read several books on the subject and got to know people in the fishing community on the island.

I remember us going up to a tackle store on the corner of New Jersey Avenue and Juniper. We would hang out in the store and he’d chat with the owner, Charlie Glenn. Mr. Glenn was a master angler. Well known on the island as a guy who could”high hook” every other fisherman around. High hook meant if they were ever out fishing Mr. Glenn would usually catch something and everyone else would go home empty-handed.

His store was a classic seashore town bait and tackle shop. All sorts of rods, reels, lures and stuff to send you on your fishing adventures. I remember a sign he had hanging on the wall among the photos of fish he had caught. It read: “Early to bed. Early to rise. Fish like hell, and make up lies.” I always liked it for its clever play on words and the idea that men probably lied all of the time about what they caught and how big the fish was. (Or the big one that got away!)

My father invested in some good surf fishing gear. He purchased a big ten-foot rod with a Garcia reel. Unlike fishing in streams and off boats, you need a long rod to throw the bait beyond the waves to where the fish were. My dad’s goal was to hook and catch a big bluefish. Weakfish and Striped Bass were also popular types that the fisherman sought after.

Bluefish – These suckers get huge and fight like a fish twice their size.

Bluefish - Wikipedia

Weakfish – This guy is actually a sea trout, but his nickname comes from his tender mouth. It’s ‘weak’ so it’s hard to get a hook in him.

Maryland Fish Facts

Striped Bass – The name is pretty obvious.

Atlantic Striped Bass | NOAA Fisheries

My dad wanted to catch one of those big blues because they put up a hell of a fight if you got one on your hook. We started out using bait, like bits of squid, but quickly abandoned that. It was slimy, smelly, gross to handle, and just seemed boring. You’d see guys at the beach sitting in their chairs with their rods standing in spikes that were driven into the sand. They’d be puffing cigars and drinking beer and just waiting and hoping something would come along and hit their bait. Boring!

My dad got into lure fishing. Using steel lures like Hopkins and Castmasters that had reflective surfaces that resembled little fish that the bigger fished liked to dine upon. Those were my favorite!

But to catch the bigger fish, you needed to use a lure called a plug.

12 Great Lures for Chinook Salmon Fishing in Puget Sound - Riptidefish

They resembled the type of fish called mullet that the bigger fish went crazy over. My father gave me books to read on the subject of fishing in general. I could still tie the proper knots to secure the lure to the line if you asked me today.

The key to catching fish in my opinion was pretty simple.

Fish the areas where you think the fish may be feeding. That meant looking to see where the seabirds like gulls were feeding. If you saw the gulls diving down to the water and snatching up little fish, that usually meant there was something bigger beneath the surface driving the little fish to the surface. If you can cast your lure out there, you may get a hit.

It seemed the best fishing was in the fall. My dad would head down to the beach in his waders and cast his heart out trying to catch a big blue. I don’t think most people realize how strong these fish are. The line these fishermen are using is heavy monofilament. A steel leader is tied to it, and then that’s attached to the lure. You have to cast it out as far as you can, and then work that lure through the water so it looks like a little fish doing its thing to fool the bigger fish. It’s truly a skill to be learned.

My dad got me a seven-and-a-half-foot Fenwick glass on glass rod, that had incredible action. On it was a Penn reel. I loved that fishing pole. I had thrown the big ten-footers in the surf without much success, and to a skinny kid like me, they were just too heavy. My older sister had a beautiful blue fishing rod, and she was an avid fisherwoman along with my dad. She put the time and practice in on the beach with dad more than I did. With that dedication came a pretty good-sized weakfish she caught on her own. I was impressed and we have the pictures to prove it. I hadn’t caught anything during any of my fishing endeavors.

As time and practice went by my dad started catching a few bluefish. Which was cool, because he would bring them home, and we’d all dine on them. I think up till then the only fish I had eaten was in the form of fried fish sticks and crab cakes. They were all bought at the supermarket from the frozen food section!

But freshly prepared seafood was delicious! My dad showed me every aspect of the fishing experience. How to hold the fish if you caught one, and how to carefully and mercifully remove the hook from the fish’s mouth.

The fish would be brought home and washed, scaled, and cut into filets. If he had a successful day and had caught more than his share, he’d share his bounty with the neighborhood. Everybody loves free food, especially when it’s absolutely fresh. Another cool thing my dad showed me, was to take the carcasses of the fish and bury them in the garden. So nothing was ever wasted from the catch. As the fish decomposed underground, they served as fertilizer. This yielded terrific, robust Jersey tomatoes. My father seemed to be very pleased with this whole cycle of life program he developed. I imagined him as the Indian warrior and me his little brave.

The filets were cooked in a pan or broiled with a bit of lemon, butter, and pepper. You can really taste the difference when you devour something that was alive and well a few hours ago. Sea to the table! (Just watch out for the bones!)

Dad finally caught a monster bluefish. He was so proud. It was three feet long and probably weighed over 20 lbs. A beast! He showed me photos he had taken.  He also showed me how during that battle to bring the fish to shore, it had beat up his tackle pretty bad. Steel leaders all chewed up and bent, and hooks nearly straightened. I was shocked at the raw power of these sea denizens as they fought their final battle on earth.

My dad became a hardcore fisherman. He and his buddies would get in his VW minibus and drive down the beach in the off-season. You needed a permit to do that, but it was awesome to take the van on the beach. He would drop the bed in the back and you could lay the fishing rods right in there. I remember going with my dad a few times, but I remember not catching anything and freezing my butt off in the van. But I was happy to spend time with my father, just the two of us.

One of the things you had to always watch when you were casting out your lure was to check that the line wasn’t tangled around the end of the pole. If it was and you didn’t notice the twist when you cast out, the line would snap and you basically threw away an eight-dollar steel lure. You’d watch your lure sail through the air and think for a second, “That was an amazing cast!” Then you’d see it disappear beneath the waves and watch as all you had left was a broken line twirling in the wind on the end of your rod. Fun!

I kept plugging away at the fishing without much luck. But one day I was down on the beach casting away with my dad and pro angler sister, and something happened.

“I got one!” I yelled as I felt the sudden tug on my line and the drag on the reel whir in my hand as the line went out of the reel. I had to think quickly and remember what my dad told me. Pull back on the rod, to seat the hook, and as I lower it, reel in like hell. I did this automatically as I did it over and over. I instinctively started to back away from the water hoping to haul out my catch. I saw him break the beach and I had him! I ran over and put my hand down on the small bluefish. I had finally caught one!

This was a father-son moment. An ancient art passed down through the generations. The father teaches his children how to catch and prepare their own food from the wild. It just felt like we were aligned with our ancestors that day on the beach.

Once I got it, I was back to casting away again. I think we caught 14 blues that afternoon. I went from zero to hero in one day! But that can happen in life. You feel like a failure, but if you keep at it, you’ll eventually find some success. This has followed me throughout my entire life.

Here are a few final words about fishing and fish in general.

I once found a three-foot sand shark on the beach one night. It was dead and some fisherman had cut a chunk out of it to use as bait. I found this cruel and unusual. Why not simply throw the elegant animal back in the sea if you didn’t want him? I had never seen a shark close up or ever touched one. Their hide is like sandpaper. Really cool. I decided to keep him. I dragged him home and hid him under the bush out front of our house. Of course, after a few days in the heat of summer, that boy was ripe! My mom was wondering what that horrible smell was coming from the front bush. I told her my shark story and she told me to drag that sucker back to the beach and dispose of it. So, I dragged “stinky” back to the dunes and left his carcass for the seagulls.

Once my dad, sister, and I were out on a little boat doing some fishing. I’ll tell the whole story about my experience in a future post, but this one is worth mentioning here. We’re fishing and dad drives the boat over to where he sees some birds working. I cast out a few times without luck. But at one point I accidentally hooked a seagull. I felt terrible. That’s not what I was out there to catch. My dad told me to gently reel him in and we’d figure something out. The eerie thing was, all of the birds stopped feeding. They all just started hovering and some floating in the water around the boat in some sort of Hitchcockian moment. My dad put on a pair of gloves and when the snagged bird was close, he gently removed the hook from the bird’s wing. He seemed unhurt and flew away to my relief.

But during this whole melee, my sister’s line got tangled and the bucktail lure she had been working sank to the bottom of the bay. While my father worked to untangle her line, I just tried to stay out of the way. Once the line was untangled and my sister could reel in her line from the murky depths, she pulls up the lure, and to our amazement, she’d hooked is a big Flounder!

Fishing Forecast: Flounder season is off to its best start in years - Daily Press

Yea, I try to catch fish and instead hook a bird. My sister is so awesome, she catches fish without even trying! High hooked us all that day!

These stories are just about us being a family and doing things together. Learning new skills and sharing fun-filled days.

In the end… what else is there in life?

 

If you like fishing and fishing stories, check out my buddy George’s site! He even has a show on YouTube!

His link is right here:

Home

I also wrote a piece about George in the Fall of 2020. You can check that out here:

George – The Rugged Outdoorsman – Part 1

George – The Rugged Outdoorsman – Part 2

 

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Snow Day

Philadelphia, PA – Mid to Late 70s.

When you’re in school and there’s a threat of a snowstorm, it’s a joyous occasion. Nowadays, they’ll close the school for some flurries and a little bit of ice. But back in the 60s and 70s, you needed at least 6 inches for them to close the schools.

I’d be home watching TV the night before and I would head downstairs every hour or so to look out the front porch windows. I’d look up at the street lights to see if any flurries were starting to fall. If they had begun then there was a good chance the snow was on, but more times than not, it didn’t. We’d go to bed and hope for the best.

The next morning I’d wake up and look out my bedroom window. I couldn’t see much because I slept in the middle room of our house. All I could see was the house next door. So, I’d flip on the radio just like I did every morning to listen to music to start my day.

Listening to music on the radio is where we got most of our music back then. Two stations. WMMR and WYSP. It was all rock and it’s where I found about whatever was popular at the time. I remember hearing the song, Roxanne by a new band called The Police back in 1978. We Will Rock You, and We Are The Champions by Queen were also a pair of firsts on the radio one morning.

But today I would flip the switch on my clock radio to AM from FM to get the local news. KYW News Radio 1060 was the go-to station for all local and national news. Normally on a snow day, they would list all of the schools and state-run buildings that were closed that day. The announcer would read through a list of dozens and dozens of school numbers to say which ones would be closing due to the inclement weather.

But the one thing we wanted to hear was this statement: “All public and parochial schools are closed.”

When you heard those words, you went from a sleepyhead kid who didn’t want to go to school, to a completely energized youngster with sudden boundless energy and excitement.

We all usually played outside as kids, but when it snowed, it was as if our neighborhood was briefly transformed into a day with endless possibilities and fun.

I’d call my friends and we’d make our plans for the day. The schools were closed to keep children safe and off the streets during inclement weather. But we did the exact opposite.

I’d get dressed and come downstairs to have breakfast with my sisters. Captain Crunch cereal, bacon, toast, and a small glass of orange juice to start the day, all courtesy of mom.

After breakfast, it was time to suit up for the day ahead. Heavy coat, hat, boots, and gloves.

Within an hour I’d meet up with my friend Michael and we’d head down to Rising Sun Avenue. Trudging through the snow with our snow shovels. We’d inquire inside a couple of small businesses and ask to shovel their sidewalks. It was an easy gig because there were no steps or driveways to shovel. Quick and efficient, we’d make between $5 and $10 each. Then we’d stop at the little corner store on the corner of Rising Sun and Gilliam Streets, called Kushners. We’d buy some cigarettes and candy. Cigs back then were $0.60 a pack. $0.51 at Rite Aid! Super cheap!

Once we were finished shoveling a couple of walks we’d head back home and drop off the shovels with no thought of doing our own steps or driveways. I’d go into the garage and grab my sled.

I had recently gotten it for Christmas and it was a beautiful Flexible Flyer. An elegant vehicle you could steer that was sturdy and swift. To add to its ability to dash down a snow-covered hill, I’d take an old candle and rub it along the blades of the sled. This made it even slicker and faster.

My little sisters would be out in the driveway, completely bundled up and they would ride their little sleds up and down the driveway. But the older kids knew of a place where the real fun lived on a snowy day.

That place was the Melrose Golf Country Club. https://www.melrosecountryclub.com/

My friends and I would walk south on Hasbrook Avenue to Levick Street. We’d walk west until we reached the crest of the hill that bordered Cheltenham. Across the bridge, over the railroad tracks, and around the cyclone fence that led into the Melrose golf course. It was obviously closed this time of year because the whole place was buried under a blanket of snow. I’d only seen it once before not covered in snow.

Toy Boat

When we got there it was already full of kids and families from all over who also knew about our secret. The whole course was somehow built on an enormous series of hills. Easily a quarter mile to the bottom down to Tookany Creek. I don’t know about other parts of the country, but I’ve never seen a better place to go sledding in my life. The hills were enormous and steep!

The cool thing was, you saw everybody who knew about this place from around your neighborhood. There were no bullies, no victims, no school rivalries. Just kids all playing together with one goal in mind. Have the best day ever in this winter wonderland made just for us.

Folks were sledding down the slopes on everything imaginable. Mostly standard sleds, but there were some people going down the hills six-strong, on toboggans. The crazy brave on their plastic or metal disks, flying over the moguls sometimes backward!

I even saw some kids all piling onto an old car hood flying down the hill to certain disaster. It was insane!

Think of the exercise we were getting back then as kids. Sledding down huge hills and then dragging our sleds back up the steep hills to do it again and again. All-day long!

Top 12 Epic Sledding Hills

We’d immediately get down to the business of having a great snow day. There were several different hills of varying sizes, so there was something for everyone there. Technically it was private property but in all the years we went there, we never had any problems. We’d start off with some of the smaller, less busy hills and then move over to the one main area where most kids were playing. It was an amazing hill. It began with a steep decline so you’d build up speed rather quickly. Midway through the folks who had to build the course had cut a road horizontally through it for the golf carts to navigate along. So this road created the first jump, so to speak.

So when you hit it at high speed, you’d literally become airborne for a few seconds. You had to hold on tight.

Then the descent became even steeper and you flew down the final few lengths. Near the bottom was a couple of inverted moguls in your path. So, basically, you could go around them or be bold and run right through them. The spot was so famous it became known as The Nutcracker. Because if you hit those dips at high speed you dipped into the first one and then became airborne only to land in the second one with a bang. Hence the name coined by the boys in the area.

It was a large course so we were always looking for new hills to sled down. On one trip we happened upon a spot south where you could sled along the golf cart road they had cut through the hill. It zig-zagged down the hill diagonally and then continued on a sharp curve just as it came to a flat wooden bridge for the golf carts to cross over a small brook. The brook led down into Tookany Creek that ran north and south a quarter of a mile west of where we were.

The hill hadn’t been done before because there weren’t any footprints or sled tracks in the area. So we would be first that day. Me being the cautious one was apprehensive about traversing unknown and potentially dangerous obstacles. But fortune favors the bold and my fearless friend Michael on his tiny, lightning-fast sled said he’d go first. God bless him!

It was a small sled, and he had to lie on his belly, bending his knees, curl his legs back towards him. Not only did he have the guts to go first, but he also got a running start. Holding his tiny sled in his hands he dashed towards the edge of the slope. He threw it down, leaped upon it, and began his rapid descent down this uncharted hill.

We all cheered him on as he flew down the hill, zigging and zagging along in perfect formation. We watched in amazement as he perfectly navigated what seemed like a very tricky hill. He got smaller and smaller as his distance increased from the hopeful onlookers.

His ride was brilliant and we all couldn’t wait to take our turn.

That is until Michael reached the flat wooden bridge. You see, the thing about bridges is they are free-standing structures. The rain, snow, and wind whistle around them and they are not only colder in temperature than the surface of the land, they usually freeze.

So, Mike hits the bridge, and instead of going across it, the moment he exits the curve and his tiny sled hits the frozen surface, he flew right off the side of the bridge and disappeared.

It was a terrifying moment as we all ran down the hill to see what had happened to our brave companion. When we finally reached the bridge, there was Michael climbing up the other side of the embankment. He was a little banged up but no worse for wear. He had flown off the side of the icy bridge, didn’t hit the water, but was going so fast, crashed into the opposite side of the embankment. A brilliant “Evel Knievel” moment. We all helped pull him back up to safety.

The world needs kids like Michael. Those in the tribe who are willing to risk life and limb and leap forward to explore new ground. But the world also needs people like me, to stay behind in case something happens to him. I can live another day, to spin the tale of the great Michael around the fire to the surviving tribal members.

https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/name/michael-mitchell-obituary?pid=195833715

We’d stay on those hills and sled most of the day. Sometimes staying out in the cold for more than six hours. You started to know when it was time to go home. Your whole body hurt from being battered on the slopes, and your speech became slurred because your face was so cold. (Either that or we were in the early stages of hyperthermia!)

Sledding hill at Cascades packed as kids enjoy off day from school - mlive.com

We’d all trudge home and go to our respective houses to dry out and rest. I’d lie on the floor and put my stocking feet against the radiator in the living room. My feet actually started to itch from the blood and nerves returning to my frigid limbs.

But it was all worth it. A day off from school to spend with my friends going on a snowy adventure. Satisfied, I’d quietly reflect on the day and sip a mug of hot cocoa provided by my mom.

I miss Michael. He was a good friend.

 

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