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When our sleds made sparks fly

Vintage child's sled on white background

Vintage child's sled on white background Credit: Getty Images/iStock

Many years ago I read a quote in a magazine: “Weather report: snow, followed by little boys with sleds.”

Stuck in a corner of my mind, it popped out this winter as I thought about sledding. That got me to thinking about my boyhood in Rosedale, a relatively flat little community in Queens on the border with Nassau County.

Memory tells me it was colder and snowier back in the late 1940s when I was a teenager. There was ice-skating every winter on the frozen pond in Brookville Park and sleigh riding on the packed snow of the local streets. (There were few hills in the park, and the soft unpacked snow didn’t allow our twin-runner sleds to slide smoothly.)

As younger kids, we would belly whop on the streets. We would run as fast as our little legs would take us, then throw down the sleds and jump on them bellies down. For the first few days after a snowfall, the side streets had enough hard- packed snow to allow belly whopping, even though the main streets were clear.

We preferred the Flexible Flyer, the Cadillac of sleds. It was the only one that offered any steering control. Its steering bar allowed the front rails to twist enough to provide a modicum of lateral control. Other sleds required dragging a foot to control direction. Most of us had the latter.

As we got older and some of us started to grow hair on our faces, belly whopping became too tame. When no friends with cars were around, we would stand at stop signs and grab the bumpers of passing vehicles. If their drivers realized what was happening, they would stop and scream as we scampered away. When crossing a main thoroughfare with no snow, sparks would fly as our sleds screeched across the bare pavement. It was fun.

Then I went to sledding graduate school. My friend Frank Short and I had the brilliant idea to build a big sled from a door to which we attached wooden runners. However, with a big sled like that, it wasn’t possible for both of us to ride and hang on to a bumper. So, we planned to use a rope from the sled and loop it around a car bumper. Then when we wanted to stop, we’d let go of the rope and let it quickly unravel. A perfect plan, right?

It was only a day or so after a big winter storm, and there was still plenty of snow on all the roads. We went to the corner of 243rd Street and Sunrise Highway. At a red light, we sneaked behind a car, looped the rope around its bumper and waited for the light to turn green.

Our adventure was about to begin. The light turned green, the car took off with a jolt that knocked both of us off the sled, and the rope got tangled in the bumper. We imagined that the driver arrived home and scratched his head as he saw a door attached to his car.

The weather report for that day should have read, “Snow, followed by big boys with little brains.”

Reader Bill Domjan lives in Melville.


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