Today’s, Blast From the Past, brought to you by: The Grownups Wanted Us Dead
When Mr. Jay realized the playground equipment wasn’t going to kill us, he came up with other devious plans for our demise. Now, some sympathy can be found for Mr. Jay’s motives for knocking us off. He had twelve kids. They all had the nasty habit of eating at least three times a day. Keeping them was probably expensive. Mr. Jay most likely wasn’t trying to kill all of us – just four or five of his own. We probably gave him fits when we inserted ourselves in the mix.
For instance, Mr. Jay almost killed Preacher, the eldest Kohl child. Clearly it was Preacher’s fault. He was always telling us how to do things quicker, faster, cooler or better.
Mr. Jay had given his kids a refrigerator box to sled on. Wait – I am getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about our sledding hill. Lacrosse Avenue, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, has a lovely quarter mile sweep down to Northwest Boulevard. During a heavy winter it is much too steep and slick for safe driving, so the hill is closed – heavy yellow caution signs cross it at both ends. These signs keep out cars, but kids with sleds can pop right under …. Oh, one more small note: Northwest Boulevard is a four-lane road now and the highway runs around downtown, but when I was a kid, Northwest Boulevard was the highway.
Anyway, back to Mr. Jay and his refrigerator box: he gave the dang thing to his kids and sent them out to sled on it. His excuse was that with 12 kids he couldn’t afford luxuries like real toys. In retrospect its clear that’s not the reason he gave his kids the box. You see, the box had neither breaks nor steering mechanisms.
Now what happens when you send a bunch of neighborhood kids out to sled is that the biggest kids – no matter what they brought to the sledding party – get all the best toys, and the little kids get what is left; in this case an old cardboard box. For the most part we’d pile on the box, six or seven little bodies at a time, the darn thing would slide a few feet and then stop. We’d scoot and grunt and wiggle, but it wouldn’t move.
Then Preacher came over. “Hey,” he said. “You gotta bend the front end of the box up so it doesn’t dig into the snow.” We tried his suggestion and managed to go six or seven feet before we stopped. Wow!
Preacher came back. “Don’t scatter out like that. Everybody sit in a straight line down the center of the box.” Okay, we think, his last suggestion worked. So instead of sitting in clusters we formed a straight line – and bent the front of the box. We slid ten feet.
Preacher came by again. “Hey guys,” he said. “Make your line tighter. Closer together. Sit inside each other’s legs. Put the smallest kids in the front and the biggest kids in the back.” (Yes, as an adult I now know there is a terrible flaw in what he just said but as a little kid: hey, the last two things he told us worked just fine. Besides, he was at least 14 years old – that had to make him one of the smartest people in our universe.}
So – tight, straight line, little kids in front, bend the front of the box – wahooo! – we made it most of the way down the hill. What a ride!
Puffing and panting we pulled our box back to the top of the hill. We were overjoyed – then Preacher came by. “You know,” he said. “With just a little more weight you could probably make it to the bottom of the hill.”
The bottom of the hill? We all looked at each other. We knew there was glory at the bottom of the hill. But where were we going to get the extra weight?
Roll call: Riding the box we had Stinker Jay, she always had a load in her pants; Sugar Jay, who ate sugar by the spoonfuls; the two Kohl girls, Sweet and Sour; the littlest two for the four Strong girls, Barbie and Bash; two boys from clear over on Emma Avenue, Friendly and Lonesome (they had their own hill and might have been safer in their own neighborhood); and me – that’s nine kids.
Nine small kids – there was room for a couple more on the box – but who? There weren’t anymore big-little kids in the neighborhood. There were little-little kids, too young to come out and play, and the big kids who’d already taken our toys and had no further use for us. We explained this to Preacher. He turned around and walked up the hill and got Flood Kohl. Now technically Flood Kohl was a big little kid, but we didn’t like to play with him because he had a tendency to get hurt and cry – hence the nickname, Flood.
Preacher came back leading his little brother Flood behind him. Preacher had us all line up on the box, littlest in front, biggest in the back – him, Preacher, being the biggest. And we’re off! Zoooooooooooooom!
Instantly the box did a 180. We were sailing down the hill – backwards! Our bodies were flying like the wind, but my mind somehow captured everything in slow motion. I don’t know who panicked first. I remember it as mass hysteria. I think it dawned on each of us at the exact same time that we were blindly headed for the highway.
The neighborhood flashed by: The school, the Wood Shop, Straw’s house, Spaulding’s house, Strong’s house, The Candy Store – next the highway and certain death. Stinker, the youngest and lightest child, managed to defy gravity and fight her way off the box. We watched her recede as the end of our lives drew nearer. I started to pray, asking God to stop us before some car did.
Before I could say, amen, a loud roaring filled my ears. A crushing weight pressed down upon my chest. A horrid stink filled my nostrils. We were dead, spread like jelly on the highway – I just knew it. Somebody was moaning piteously.
Moaning? Somebody was alive. And I could hear it, so I was alive, too! I tried to move. The crushing weight holding me down was about seven of my dearest friends. The loud roaring came from traffic on the highway – behind us! I tried to see, but we seemed to be stuck in some kind of a hole. The moaning was also coming from behind. Maybe some of us got run over, and some of us didn’t?
Suddenly Mr. Strong was there lifting kids up out of the pile. He was saying words I mustn’t repeat even as an adult for fear my big sister will get out her bar of soap (or her soap box). As I was lifted free I looked back. My prayers had been answered. God had stopped us just short of the highway.
Preacher (remembering this, one has to marvel at the miracle that Preacher really is a preacher today) had cause to not appreciate the miracle. God had stopped us with a stop sign. Preacher took the full force of the blow. Mr. Strong took him home – and then to the hospital – in the back of his truck.
Mr. Jay was very apologetic. Personally I think most of his sorrow was in not managing to off any of his own kids.
Oh – the horrible stench I smelled after we hit the pole? When Stinker bailed from the box she left a present behind. It completely ruined the box so we couldn’t take it back up the hill and try again.
When I got home Gram fixed me a hot bath, follwed by hot chocolate with marshmallows. As we sipped she told me that plastic garbage sacks make even better sleds than cardboard boxes. I was so excited to try out her suggestion I never gave another thought to breaks and steering mechanisms.