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Discover Mid-America — February 2008

A night sledding

by Doug Bratcher

The frozen ground crunched under my feet as I pulled my sled over the new fallen snow. A full moon lights the way over the white field ahead. The top of the hill is the visible destination for a slide back down to the road, not once, but as many times as your cold hands and feet can stand. Your senses seem acute on nights like this.

The air is crisp and calm, and the smells of the evening abound. The coal burning in the preacher's big octopus of a furnace has a bit of a sulfur smell. On a really cold night, it's back breaking work shoveling that hard black coal into the furnace.

The smoke from the grocer's fireplace has thin wisps of white mingling with the hint of a ground fog. The oak logs he cut and split last summer warm him well now.

I catch the hint of chocolate chip cookies being baked by the old maid schoolteacher across the road. She uses real butter and lard, and the cookies are as flat as a pancake but so tasty you have to have more than one.

Out of the corner of my eye a rabbit runs for cover under a young cedar tree. I'd say Mr. Fox was out on this bright night looking to round up some food for him and the misses.

The milkman's house lights are out and he's probably snoring already. He usually meets the newspaperman coming home as he makes the rounds delivering his dairy products.

The lights are on at Doc’s house. Maybe he's reading a good book or a medical journal before retiring.

The druggist house is dark except for small light in the back. He works long hours during the winter filling prescriptions for all the people's ailments.

I see the pond ahead and the glimmer of a small fire reflecting off the ice. It's hard to believe that just a few weeks back we were swimming in those waters.

I greet my friends with a hearty hello and warm my hands over the fire. We grab our sleds and head for the top of the highest ground in town. I have my sled with a bend runner and a broken top slat. Fatty has an old trashcan lid and his brother a broken down toboggan. The new kid has a brand new sled long enough for two people to seat upright on. Don't know why you would want to sled that way. His sister is going to tell on him if she doesn't get to ride with him. One of the twins brought marshmallows from his father store to roast when we take a rest.

It seems like a mile to the top of the hill in the unbroken layer of snow. We all follow in single file to tamp down the snow to make a sled run. It seems we are walking in a straight line until we get to the top and look back down. I'm not sure the sleds can follow such a crooked trail.

After a few runs downhill, the sled trail widens so that two of us — side by side — can race toward the bottom. We make a ramp at the bottom to jump over and few of us land upright with a tumble in the snow as a just reward.

After dozens of walks up and sledding down, we run for the fire and its glow for warmth to roast a few of those fluffy marshmallows. They taste better at night because you can't see how bad you burned them in the fire.

When it's time to go the fire is put out with handfuls of snow, which turn into snowballs, and the fight is on. We scatter down the street, running with a sled rope in one hand and a snowball in the other. We have to be quiet as we pass the telephone man’s house. The new baby just brought home last week needs his sleep.

We say our goodbyes and head for the comfort of one of the warm houses is the distance.

When I get home I leave my wet clothes at the door and slip off the rubber boots. My hands are cold and I run some water over them to thaw them out. I crawl under the covers and for once the cold sheets feel rather warm. The moon shines warmly through the window and the shadows dance around the room as my eyes close and my body relaxes in slumber. I dream of more snow and maybe a new sled from the Western Auto store in town.

Doug Bratcher and his wife Jan own Bratcher Cooperage in Liberty, MO.


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