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Superman Hill

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On the edge of Hillsborough, out on Grady Brown School Road, a steep hill seems to shoot you straight into the sky. Flanked by woods on both sides, you're sailing up into pure blue. If you're going just the right speed, your stomach does a little butterfly drop as you crest and soar down the other side. Many years ago, my two sons and I enjoyed the hill every Thursday evening as we drove from our house in Durham to my mother's house in Friends Community to share supper.

Since it seemed an endless 12-mile drive for young, hungry children, I began chanting the Superman theme when we started the climb up that hill: "Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive," timing it to finish just at the crest with: "Look!—up in the sky: It's a bird. It's a plane. It's—Superman!" Over we'd go. The boys always knew we were almost to Grandma's and food when their tummies gave that little lurch as we touched the sky.

But not long after my elder son turned at 10 years old, he began shedding what he thought were childish ways. He decided that our Superman routine, which had now occurred for six years of Thursdays, was something that had to go. One evening, as we made the turn onto Grady Brown School Road, he said, "Mom, I don't want to do Superman Hill anymore. It's dumb." My younger son, then 6, was not happy, and I also was reluctant to let it go, but I could understand my 10-year-old's need. "OK, it's the radio, then, for Superman Hill," I said, turning the radio on just as we met the foot of the hill.

Suddenly, a deep male voice boomed out of the radio speakers: "Faster than a speeding bullet ..." In that little car climbing that big hill, my boys and I entered what must have been another dimension. We could not speak, but the voice in the radio continued: " ... more powerful than a locomotive ... " How could this be? Were we part of some weird cosmic prank? " ... able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Look—up in the sky: It's a bird. It's a plane. It's— Superman!" Over the top of the hill we sailed.

I pulled the car over to the side of the road and turned the radio off. We sat there in silence for some time, gazing out over the trees. I finally drove the last few miles to Grandma's. Slowly.

In the years that followed, we never did the Superman chant again. One of the boys always turned the radio off before we got to the hill. They grew up and left home. My mother died a few years ago, so I rarely drive out that way now. Occasionally I consider the mathematical probability of what happened that day, but I always end up shaking my head. The odds that we turned the radio on for the first time in years, that the radio played that clip at all, that we had the dial on the right station, that it played the clip on a Thursday at that very spot of the 12-mile trip ... all of these odds compute to completely and utterly impossible.

It could not happen. It did happen.

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