Sledding on hills and other winter ups and downs


February 13, 1993|By ROB KASPER

It was more akin to a dusting than a blizzard, but during the few hours last weekend that flakes fell, it felt like winter.

As soon as our car pulled away from a freshly completed basketball game, my 7-year-old son spotted sledders on the hill in front of the Baltimore County Board of Education on North Charles Street.

To my eye the snow on this hill looked patchy and uncertain. I could see grass poking through it.

But to the eye of a 7-year-old who had not been sledding all winter, this hill looked slick and inviting. A slope that would make a sledder move like lightning. The only way I could keep the kid in the car was to remind him that we didn't have any sleds in the trunk. And I had to make a promise. I promised that we would visit the hill in our neighborhood, right after we ran a few errands.

We eventually did make it to the neighborhood sledding spot, the hill in front of the old Mount Royal train station of the Maryland Institute of Art. But first we stopped in a hardware store hunting for plumbing parts and then in a sporting goods store to snare some Ping-Pong balls. The necessities of life cannot be neglected.

It turned out there was hardly enough snow on this hill to make a snowball, let alone to lubricate a sled. And so another parental promise was issued. I told my son that if the snow was still around by the next day, I would drive around searching for a snowy hillside.

The promise was called in and by noon Sunday I had the car loaded with three kids, two of mine and one from the neighborhood, and an assortment of snow assault vehicles.

There was a conventional sled, the kind Citizen Kane called "Rosebud." This "Rosebud" sled didn't belong to a fabulously wealthy newspaper publisher who had a castle on the California coast. Instead it belonged to Hugh, who lived in the neighborhood and who was in the back seat strapped down by a seat belt.

There also was a "snowboard." It wasn't one of the fancy boards that cost close to $100 and are ridden by flexible youths down icy slopes. This was an old wooden skateboard with its wheels and supports removed. Filling up the back of the car was the favorite snow vehicle of the urban racer, sheets of cardboard.

We headed north up the Jones Falls Expressway searching for snow. We ended up on a hill where my kids go to school, St. Paul's, just north of the beltway. I could drive there without thinking, and do several times a week when I drive morning car pool.

The kids bounded out of the car almost before it stopped. They threw themselves on the thin coating of snow and miraculously shot down a hill. After several runs, the sled was declared the fastest vehicle. The snowboard was a curiosity. And the cardboard was abandoned.

I picked up the cardboard and made a few unsuccessful attempts at locomotion. But mostly I watched the kids and enjoyed the atmosphere. The sweet aroma of the snow, the bite of the winter wind and the whoop of joy and fright as the kids skittered over the snow made me nostalgic. But not for long. Soon I felt cold. I got back in the car, turned on the heater and read the owner's manual. That is what owner's manuals are good for, to keep you amused while you are stuck in your car.

The kids proudly pointed out their tracks on the snowy hillside. They regarded them as proof of conquest. They were pleased they had been able to make a mark on the world.

We all felt invigorated as we headed home. The cheeriness stayed with me until Sunday night, when the dark side of winter showed its might.

I heard water running. At first I thought it was a stuck toilet. But then I looked out the back window and saw a stream of water. It was coming from the outdoor faucet, or at least from where the outdoor faucet used to reside.

Somehow the water supply to the faucet had not been shut off as it usually is in wintertime. The water in the faucet had frozen. There was contraction, expansion and eventually eruption. Sunday night the faucet was blown off its fitting by the stream of water in the line behind it.

I got the water turned off. But not before it had formed a sizable pool on a sunken back porch. And so the day that began with a joyful slide down a hillside ended with gloves, boots and buckets. From the celebration of the season to a winter's bail.

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