In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.
A deep stillness is there when I wake up. Curious, to understand it, I get out of bed. Go to the bedroom window. Peering through its frosted pane I see trees, yard, and streets smothered by freshly fallen snow.
I rush out of my room, down the hall, to Pamela’s bedroom. There, I quietly open the door. Silently approach the bed in which she is sleeping. Stand as tall as my ten-year old body can stand. Put my lips near her ear, then whisper, “Wake up Pamela. There’s fresh fallen snow. Wake up.”
Pamela, my older sister by three years, opens one eye, then another. An ever so wry smile graces her face. Indicating she understands the significance of my words.
Giddy with excitement I hurry back to my room. Where, off go my pajamas, and on come pair of underwear. A turtleneck slides over my head. I wiggle into a pair of long johns. Then pull on socks, jeans, a wool sweater, and shoes…in that order.
Pamela meets me in the kitchen. We eat the breakfast—oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon, and brown sugar—Mom has waiting for us. After which we each put on galoshes, a scarf, stocking cap, and coat. After putting on my coat, mittens dangling from a string running sleeve to sleeve, I head outside. Leaving Mom to fret over Pamela’s coat and gloves.
When Pamela steps out the back door, she finds me waiting. Astride a slick, five-foot long, brand new, never been used Flexible Flyer. Eager to get going, I fidget as Mom positions Pamela on my sled. After which she wraps a quilt around Pamela’s feet and legs. Satisfied that Pamela is warm and comfortable, Mom sends us on our way. Me pulling, Pamela giggling, we head to McMurray Hill.
Located on the other side of Corydon, about a mile from our house, McMurray Hill is hardly a hill. Too steep to pave and heavily rutted from years of neglect, most of the year no one cares about the hill. That changes in January and February when the hill becomes a treacherous quarter-mile sheet of snow and ice that attracts thrill-seekers from throughout Wayne County flock to its incline.
The thrill-seekers, in turn, attract townsfolk seeking a much-needed diversion from the winter tedium. Wrapped in blankets, they huddle hillside, sipping beverages from thermoses and brown paper covered bottles. Their cheers send forth people on sleds, toboggans, and an occasional car hood. The oohs and ahs they emit mark each slider’s downward progress, or lack thereof. An encounter with a snow pile, tree, or the creek at the hill’s base, earns a slider a grateful round of applause. A string of lights, running top to bottom and back to the top of the hill, gives a festive feeling to the hill
Today the hill attracts Pamela and me. When we arrive, a line of people waits to slide down it. Carefully I help Pamela off the sled. Walk with her to a picnic table, where three of her friends are saving a seat. When I am comfortable that she is comfortable, I add myself to the line. Seven people stand between the hill and me.
My pulse quickens as a boy twice my age launches, slides, and skids off course. My throat tightens as the cheers of the onlookers send Bob, manager of the local Texaco station, off down the hill. Cheers grow louder as he and sled go sideways. Applause erupts when they part ways, tumbling separately to the bottom. My palms become moist when Mrs. Hayes, mother of classmate Emma, takes her turn. Getting a cheer and applause similar to the ones previous sliders got, none of who made it safely to the bottom of the hill.
When my turn comes, my clothes are sweat soaked. Knees wobble from fear, not cold. Stepping to the line, I refuse to look down the hill. Instead I look to Pamela, my dear fragile sister. Her smile erases my doubt. She mouths the words, “Go Mark-E.” A wave of her hand sends me forth with confidence.
Gravity pushes. Speed builds. Time slows. Mind, body, and sled meld together. Leans and weight shifts, not thoughts, respond to bumps and ruts. Down I go. The bottom of the hill rushes toward me then flies by. Up the opposite side of the hill I go. As some deft foot dragging brings my body to a halt, my mind speeds up. Yet, somehow I find the wherewithal to look up at Pamela.
Our eyes lock. The expression on Pamela’s face is unlike any I have seen before. The complete and utter love, admiration, and hope it conveys tell me that I am no longer her little brother. I am at once elated, overwhelmed, and confused. A nod of her head shows she understands my emotions. Her smile tells me that I will be okay. The tears that run down her cheek reveal Pamela’s joyful realization that, from now on, my future is her future.
After gathering my wits, I walk up the hill that I had slid down. The applause of the townsfolk, though loud, passes through me. My thoughts are with Pamela. I think about how as I pull her home, she will giggle and tease me about the accomplishment of this day.
On this trip to Heartland, a memory of sliding down McMurray Hill awaits my arrival. It reminds me how important setting goals and overcoming fears are in achieving success. That looking past the weaknesses and failures of others enables me to transcend fear and achieve success for Pamela and myself.
Going deeper, I recognize that the sled ride down McMurray Hill changed Pamela and my dynamic. How afterwards my going where Pamela could not go expands her world vicariously. Her external fragility activates my inner strength. Love connects us. And, I will forever be Mark-E, Pamela’s little brother.
Note: This is the 25nd post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.