Saturday, May 5, 2012

"Mom’s First (and Last) Sled Ride," by Ellie O’Malley

A few weeks ago I invited you to send Mother’s Day vignettes and I promised to publish one here this week.  

I’ve chosen three stories instead of one, and today Ellie O’Malley’s tribute to her mother will get us started. Ellie is a member of our local memoir class and I know you’ll enjoy her story because many of us remember the childhood emotions and longings Ellie shares—and our own sledding mishaps.

Mom’s First, (and Last), Sled Ride
By Eleanor O’Malley

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
Romans 8:35, 37

My mother might have become the first ever Olympic snow sledder from the Caribbean if it hadn’t been for an almost invisible bump in the snow on her first sled ride. If she had known then how to be a victor in Christ, the event would not have deterred such a quest. As it was, it spoiled the day and was the end of her sled riding.

Born and raised on the Dutch half of warm, sun-basked St. Martin, she had no opportunity to make friends with snow. After moving to New York in her teens she discovered the silent beauty of a gentle snowfall but never really learned how to play in snow.

Dad and I, on the other hand, were raised in four-season New York and enjoyed playing in all seasons. In winter we constructed awesome igloos big enough for us both to crawl into, built gigantic snow forts for neighborhood snowball fights, ice skated on local ponds, and took the adventurous sled ride of the century after a blizzard. Dad was a kid at heart for he’d never really had a childhood until he had one with me.

Mom was so loving, sacrificing, hard working, and practical, but we wanted her to play with us too. One day we came up with a plot to get her to enjoy winter with us, so we wore her down with invitations and pleas to sled with us down Dinner Bell Hill. It was an open, wide, long but gentle slope on Rice’s farm across the street where neighbors of all ages went sledding, so we kept at her until she consented.

It was the perfect place to give her a safe start.

So we thought.

There were two other sled riding spots on the farm, but we never considered either for Mom, especially Daredevil Hill. That was off limits for me as it was a treacherous, narrow run on a steep, twisty path lined with big trees and large rocks. A boy had been severely injured there the year before when he hit a tree head first trying to navigate a toboggan down its slope. Of course, as I got older I justified my secret expeditions down Daredevil Hill by telling friends that a sled could maneuver easily where a toboggan couldn’t.

The third hill was a little steeper than Dinner Bell Hill but had a deep, wide ditch halfway down enabling sledders to become air born when they exited it. That made the end run so thrilling you could feel it in your stomach. Quickly approaching the bottom, you had to jam the steering bar to the left while dragging your feet in the snow so you wouldn’t fly into the gooey swamp straight ahead. Its huge tree limbs seemed to reach out menacingly just to capture you in swamp muck.

Truly, we’d made a very wise decision about which hill to choose for Mom’s first sled ride.

We had two Flexible Flyer sleds which were quite old, but extremely well built with perfectly smooth tops that ensured comfortable belly flopping. They were made of dark, durable hardwood and had sturdy, swift, red runners. The smaller one was quite a bit longer than today’s sleds, but very fast, and had exquisitely sensitive steering. The larger one was meant for several sledders sitting upright but was too heavy to be much fun, especially when you had to pull it back up a hill.

I’d never seen my mother wear slacks, but on the great sledding day she borrowed a pair of my sister’s and joined us and a large number of neighbors on Dinner Bell Hill.

Actually, I think she was looking forward to the ride down the hill. We instructed her carefully, but as things turned out, not thoroughly enough. Everyone was laughing and having a lot of fun sledding that day, both adults and children. We waited in happy anticipation of the wonderful ride Mom would have.

Well, Mom took off belly down on the sled as instructed and everything seemed just fine until she hit a snow bump kids had built earlier so they could go airborne. It was a small bump, but totally unexpected. We hadn’t noticed it.

At least Mom enjoyed the ride on the top part of the hill, but as soon as she hit the bump she fell off the sled, but only partially, continuing to hang on as it gathered momentum. More and more shivering snow got shoved up under her jacket onto her bare back.

Faster and faster she went down the hill as Dad and I yelled at her to let go, but she couldn’t hear us above neighbor’s laughter and her own increasingly loud squeals as more icy cold snow packed up her back.

She finally came to a stop at the bottom of the hill looking a little humiliated and very cold! She picked herself up, shook out as much snow as she could, dusted herself off and, in spite of our loud pleas to give it another try, headed home through fields past the other sledding spot with the wide ditch, her head hung low.

Mom never asked to go sled riding again, in fact, never talked about her disastrous ride. It seemed hilarious to us at the time for we were used to such things happening, but in retrospect, I felt sorry that it happened to my beloved mom. It was a happy thing to have her be a part of our play, even briefly, for she sacrificed so much to make a nice home for our family. We felt proud of her and gave her credit for trying.

Though Mom died over thirty years ago, I wish I could give her a nice safe sled ride now, one she would enjoy and remember forever. I’d sit behind her, hold her tightly, steer for her, avoid all bumps, and give her a grand ride to be proud of.

I think Mom was ashamed of falling off the sled, especially in front of so many neighbors who were used to snow and sledding. I wish I had known then to tell her that Jesus took all her shame when He hung on the cross and gave her His glory in exchange. What an exchange! If her heart had known that, she would have willingly taken many joyful rides down Dinner Bell Hill, waving triumphantly to neighbors all the way down, and feeling like the conqueror she truly was because of what Jesus did for her. She didn’t have to carry any shame. Even if she had fallen off the sled again, with Jesus by her side I know she would have gotten up and just smiled and waved to neighbors again all the way down shouting triumphantly, “I belong to Him! I belong to Him! I’m a conqueror!”

When we have Jesus in our hearts we are conquerors no matter what, for nothing can ever separate us from His love, including any of life’s bumps and spills.

from Songs of the Heart; copyright © 2012 Eleanor O’Malley 

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