Posted by admin on August 26, 2013 in Growing Up |

Snow is a rather rare occurrence in Washington. O.K., let me correct this a bit. It snows like crazy in the mountains around here, hundreds of inches. But for the most part, the snow stays where snow should snow: the mountains.

In the lower echelons of the state, snow isn’t such a common occurrence. O.K., I should correct this, too. It snows like crazy in Eastern Washington during the winter as well. But it doesn’t snow as much in Western Washington, at least in Renton where I grew up.

In the years before global warming, we’d get really cold winter days and nights, lots of black ice and real ice, and if we were really lucky, a snow day or two where school was either two hours late or not at all.

Of course, the weather forecasting wasn’t very accurate back then. Weathermen here rarely could tell you what it was going to be like in the next hour, let alone what it would be like in a day or two, or even a week ahead. More often than not, they would not even see a snowstorm even coming our way and the entire region would be horribly ill prepared for the wrath of Mother Nature as she shed her dandruff all over the Seattle area.

As a kid, these were the days you waited all year for. You’d wake up earlier in the morning than usual, tune into the local radio station and wait patiently while they went through the entire alphabet of school districts until they finally reached Renton.

“Renton schools are closed today.”

Those are the magic words. You’d bound instantly out of bed, something you would never do on a school day, and rummage through the closet for your warmest snow gear. If usually took some time to assemble the uniform, as some items would go a year or more without being needed; the winters being cold and rainy rather than freezing and snowy.

After filling up on Cream of Wheat and Wonder Bread masked as buttered toast, we’d head outdoors, not returning until darkness had descended upon our sleepy little town.

We were a poor family so we didn’t have a sled or toboggan to our name. No matter. We had inner tubes. As late fall approached, we took great care to ensure that our tubes were properly patched and fully inflated at the local gas station. Then we would store them with great care, waiting for that rare day when snow fell.

Nearby, the old sand pit awaited us. It was not far, just on the other side of Lions Club Park, which was a block or so away from my house. We would grab our tubes and begin our early morning trudge to the hill.

It was there that the magic happened. Like experienced engineers working on the Olympic bobsled runs we would begin to carve the most amazing runs down the hillside. Some of the kids bored blazingly fast straight runs down the hill, adding a bone crushing jump at the bottom. Others, like Bob Core and I, would create slaloms on the hill, weaving between the Scotch Broom that in summer, painted the hill a vibrant yellow.

The morning runs were very slow going. Often we would have to scoot our way down the hill with our feet or get off our trusty tube to push our way through the mound of snow to carve the correct path. Alternately, we would build up parts of the hillside, ensuring that a sharp turn would send us around its path, rather than over the edge and into the less than welcoming Scotch Broom or dormant blackberry stickers.

Eventually, things got better as more kids arrived from the surrounding neighborhoods, inner tubes and saucers in hand.

The hill was the place to be, if not for the endless fun we had in the snow, then for the barriers that it lowered for the few days it would snow here. Bullies and wimps alike would share the same hill, no one taking cuts or doing doubles, i.e., threatening the littler and lesser kids into waiting for them to return for a second run before taking their turn.

This was a land of equals. Even the doofiest kid in school could dazzle the bullies with their blazingly fast and bold runs down the hill, putting all caution and sense aside, heading down the pit with reckless abandon at breakneck speeds.

Jaws would drop at the top of the hill as the class geek took to the air on the jump below, holding on dearly to the inner tube that would inevitably separate from him in midair, leaving him bug-eyed as he pondered his fate, not knowing if he and the tube would reunite or if the now hard packed, ice covered snow would knock the wind out of him and possibly break a bone.

Eventually, the fun would subside. Darkness would descend and we all knew it was time to go home. More often than not, the weather gods would play their tricks on us and our gold medal runs would be reduced to soggy, slushy slop by morning, thanks to a rain storm of biblical portions that would follow our brief dousing of the white stuff.

But on rare occasions, those that I still hold dearly in the recesses of my memory, we’d awake to an even better day.

Somewhere in the night, the weather and chemistry combined to create a light ice sheen over our tracks on the hill not far from home. School was cancelled once more, and we would all descend once again on the hill, this time enjoying frictionless runs that probably would have killed a less seasoned “swoosher” who didn’t know how to handle the speed and challenge of “the hill.”

It was what separated the men from the boys in those days. Those heady runs down the hill that were so fast that instinct controlled your destiny, not the skill. Those who had the right stuff would rise in honor at the base of the hill, triumphant in knowing that at least at this moment, on this hill, they weren’t the wimp, the geek or the freak of Kennydale Elementary School.

In the Emerald City, tube in hand, getting ready for winter,

– Robb


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