NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 10, 2014

King of the hill with our double runner

Bill Plante's North Shore
Newburyport Daily News

---- — Let us give thanks for the quick melt and runoff of our most recent — I was about to write “heavy” — snowfall for what was actually very light snow. There was a lot of it, but ...

And while we’re doing that, let us also be grateful for what followed by way of easing removal while providing for what can be made useful for sliders and out-of door-skaters.

As for the latter — if the weather cooperates — Bartlet Mall pond beckons.

It may have been the angle of the sun as I drove past, but it seemed that the skateable area of pond ice was slick as glass but with a dull green tinge.

That’s not surprising — so does the water as the ice melts unfortunately, a reality the Mall committee strives to return to its once environmental haven for wildlife.

As for snowfall, we take what we get and try to make the most of it. Unfortunately, venues are limited for what we once called sliding and more recently sledding.

Major among them was Hale’s Hill for most of us, and Mt. Rural for others.

That was before they bulldozed the crown to provide for the high school, and flattened it southerly to create the football and baseball fields.

The original hill was considerably higher and longer, a condition that added greatly to the opportunity to get the best out of a Flexible Flyer sled.

They were fast and controllable and we could race them downhill or in our streets.

We had no challengers to our double runner, however.

Given its 6 feet of length it was something of an effort for whoever we could get to help get it uphill.

My father had built one for my Christmas present in 1932. It had two sleds — one in back and a front one for steering. From front to back, there were side rails for our feet.

It would carry four of us, but we tried our best to make room for a fifth to ease the effort of hauling it back up hill.

It was a slow slider, but the added weight was a downhill benefit for distance, and the steering wheel that once served a small truck assured control of the front sled.

There were other hills, the present one included, but most sliding was done on side streets because they weren’t so much plowed as packed.

Newburyport, settled as it is on rising terrain from one end to the other, provided for sliding to Merrimac and Water streets from streets headed down from High Street

The bottoms of most downhill streets were either sanded or spread with coal ashes, but we had to use snowbanks to stop our double runner.

I have no recollection of accidents. There may have been a few, but there was scant street travel by automobiles on most of them during the early and middle years of the Great Depression.

There’s no question that today’s young relish downhill sliding — most of it in unmanageable, circular, plastic sleds, and it’s a wonder there aren’t as many injuries as one might think.

There certainly aren’t as many safe sliding areas as there once were, despite sliding’s continuing popularity.

Automobiles line streets once available for sliding.

As for the annual opportunity to make the most of a Bartlet Mall winter festival, much depends on what nature provides, but it’s how that’s dealt with by those who do the heavy lifting that makes safe fun possible.

Let’s hope for the best because the opportunities for out-of-door fun during our snowfall years are where fun memories were made.

These will be happily recalled by our present young when they bring their own — say 25 years from now — to the Bartlet Mall to relive the wonder of their own discoveries.

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Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His e-mail address is plantejr@comcast.net.