We heard the rumors about the Saxapahaw sledding scene, so we had to go see for ourselves. "Where's a good place in town to sled?" my friend asked the guy at the gas station. "Up the hill and behind the water tower," he said. "You'll see 'em."
There were about 40 people running around out there, mostly dads who'd brought their kids. Right away I felt conspicuous because my snowsuit wasn't camouflage, like almost all the other grownups' and about half of the kids'. The dads stood at the top of the hill, chain-smoking and drinking Bud out of the can, yelling things like "Go on, boy! Yee-haw! Get your butt out of the path like I told you." A fire burned in a pool of slush. A steady stream of people kept arriving, on foot and by truck.
About every 10 minutes, a kid clambered up bawling about getting run over. The daddies all nodded gravely, brushed off the victim, found him a Pepsi and another sled. Sometimes a father and son went down together, but the main sport seemed to be taunting other grownups into doing something foolhardy.
The sled choice was eclectic. We knew we had to bring something, so we tried out a canvas doormat, but it was useless. No matter, everyone was sharing. The policy seemed to be take any free vehicle down, as long as you bring it back up. There were cheap molded plastic sleds, broken-off ends of surfboards, trash-can lids and truck-tire inner tubes. There was a sheet of linoleum, a couch cushion wrapped in garbage bags, a real Radio Flyer sled, a couple of snowboards, one pair of skis and the extremely rusty hood of an old Ford truck.
"How'd the truck hood go?" I asked a guy. "Not too good," he said. "We put about six of us in it last night, but it didn't do much." There was a second hood at the bottom of the hill, which fatally slashed one of the big inner tubes before someone thought to turn it over. Briars at the top of the hill got another one. It hissed and melted away with a full load of giggling girls.
I went down in one with two little boys clinging to me in mortal terror. We were saved from certain full-body paralysis only by colliding with four kids who were climbing up the hill as we shot down it. They fell like bowling pins. The kid on my lap wept convincingly for about three minutes, then said, "I'm going on something slower next time."
After that, I stuck to the little plastic discs I could kind of steer. Amazingly, no one actually got hurt, not even my friend who rode the big round Coca-Cola sign with the sharp rusty edges. Everyone said it was the best ride there. I'm just sorry I missed the first night on the slopes when some guys brought their canoes.