Copyright is held by the author.
“I GET the new toboggan today!”
I had done all my chores, and I was ready to go! The sliding party didn’t start for another hour, but I wanted to be first on the hill — the snow was fresh, and guaranteed a ride out onto the lake. It would be a long walk back to the top of School Hill, but worth every step.
“Not today,” my mother yelled from the kitchen. “The boys already asked last night. You always grab the new one. The girls have the old one. You take that sled.”
I hated being the oldest. It was always “the boys,” then “the girls,” and last of all, me. There’s a nail coming out of the front of that old thing! Besides, it’s too slow!” I yelled back at her in anger as I stamped my foot on the crunchy snow.
“Fix the nail. Are your hands painted on, girl?”
“NOOOO!” I stomped off to the barn for a hammer, wanting desperately to use it on something other than the nail on that sled. I banged at the board half-heartedly, not paying attention to what I was doing. It was always “them” against me. I was sick of being the example, the one who had to make sure the younger ones were taken care of.
We were going to the annual Valentine’s sliding party at the old school. It was used as a community hall these days, since we were now bussed into a modern school in town. One-room schools were becoming a distant memory everywhere, but ours lived on as the venue for auction sales, Farmers’ Club meetings, Christmas parties and today, the sliding party.
Around Valentine’s Day, kids would gather on School Hill for a Saturday afternoon of sliding, while a few adults from the community would warm up the school house and prepare the goodies for our “après-slide.” Once the boots were cleaned off, and our snowsuits hung on the nails in the cloakroom, we headed in for sandwiches and hot chocolate. The pièce-de-résistance was a heart-shaped cake, bedecked in cinnamon hearts and pink icing, guaranteed to have us drooling.
“I’m leaving now!” I doubted I would get away so easy.
“Get back here and help the boys get dressed!” I knew it.
“Are their hands painted on?” I quipped, the same question she had just asked me.
“Do you want to stay home while they go to the party? Your smart mouth’ll have you sitting in your room for the day if you don’t watch it.” Oh, she could be so miserable.
“Mom, they are so spoiled. They’re old enough to get their own snowsuits on. Why do I always have to help them? Get the girls to help!” I slammed the porch door, and headed to help the little babies. She was still yelling at me, and I knew I was treading dangerous waters. Again.
“The girls have enough trouble getting themselves dressed let alone having to help them. Get in there right now. Donnie can’t get his boots on.”
Donnie whined from the time he rolled out of bed in the morning until he rolled back in at night. I think he was born whining. He was such a crybaby; the more I did for him, the worse he got.
“Put your leg up, ya brat. I’m not crawling on the floor to put your boots on.” His chubby legs covered in snowpants had to be crammed into his boots. I gave the bottom of his boot an extra hard shove that knocked him against the wall.
“You’re hurting me. I’m telling.”
“So tell, ya brat. Put your own damn boot on.”
“Mom! Gloria’s swearing again!” he screamed. I could cheerfully have stuffed his boots down his throat, because I knew what would happen next. I had played this scene out many a time.
“Are you looking to stay home today?” she hollered from the kitchen. “Because it sure looks like you don’t want to go to the sliding party. You need your mouth washed out with a bar of lye soap. I swear I don’t know what’s gonna happen to the likes of you. That mouth of yours is gonna do you in!”
Donnie looked at me with innocent blue eyes and smiled. I understood murder at that moment.
I finally had them ready to go. The five of us straggled down the road, Donnie of course howling: “Mom said you had to wait for me!” The creek beside the road was still open; I wondered if his snowsuit would keep him afloat long enough to be rescued.
The hill was fast today, as I suspected. Even my cumbersome old sled flew farther out onto the frozen lake each time I went down. It was strange how the younger ones were so independent on the hill, and so needy at home. Except for Donnie.
“Gloria, help me up!” I was at the top of the hill, poised to take the biggest slide ever.
“I will in a minute. I’m going down first!” I yelled down to him. He lay sideways on the hill, his snowsuit too bulky to allow him to get upright.
“Nooo! Come and get me nowww!”
The other kids were looking at me, waiting. Donnie was in the way, and until I got him out of there, none of them could go down the hill. He was truly a pain.
I weighed my options: slide down and get out onto the lake, then pick him up on the way back or slide toward him and walk back up with him, and then go for my long slide? But I might hit him if I slid toward him. Not a bad idea. He had a puffy snowsuit on. He wouldn’t even feel it if I hit him! And it would be an accident. Wouldn’t it?
“Come on, kids! Finish up! Your lunch is ready!” I had to make a decision. There was nothing to do but head straight for him. I jumped on my sled, belly down, and shoved off. Just as I approached my little brother, he turned his face toward me. I couldn’t steer away. The sled plowed straight into his head. Blood sprayed onto the snow; everywhere, kids screamed.
I have never been able to wipe the screams away. One minute I was streaking toward a whining kid. The next I was trying to stop the flow of blood from his forehead with my icy mittens, crying for help. I had forgotten about the nail, still poking out enough to do terrible damage.
My brother got stitches, I got the switch. He still has the scars. So do I. I did learn a lesson, though. If you are going to do your sibling an injury, make sure it isn’t on Valentine’s Day. You’ll miss the heart-shaped cake with cinnamon candies and pink icing. To this day, that might be my greatest regret.