Sunday, February 3, 2013

Tongue Tied by Bruce H. Mero for Story Telling Sunday

linking this up to Story Telling Sunday over at Sian's...we are pretty sure this hasn't been linked up to her blog before, but may have been published on my blog way back in 2011. Sorry to bring you a bit of snow Australia, but we're in the midst of it here! Perhaps it will cool you down a bit! It doesn't quite match her theme, but perhaps we can go with childhood and memories of a Grandpa as being precious. 

Tongue Tied

by Bruce H. Mero

          It had snowed heavily overnight. As I ate breakfast, I could hear the sounds of Grandpa Curt's Willies Jeep, plowing snow out of the driveway. 

          Before my Cheerios were finished, Grandpa came through the back door, stamped his feet, unbuckled his galoshes and took off his overcoat. 

          “There’s a lot of snow on the ground,” he said. “The City plows have not been here yet and the street is still full of drifts. I’d be surprised you kids had school today.”

          My sister and I looked at each other, wide-eyed, and then gazed at our Mom.

          "I hate to give you the bad news,” she said, “But there is nothing on the radio about school being cancelled, so you’d better get ready to go.”

          Minutes later, we were out the door. Seneca Street School was about one half mile from our house. We walked there and back every day, sister Caryl to the fourth grade and me to the sixth. As soon as we had left the part of the driveway Grandpa Curt had plowed, we plunged into knee deep snow and some waist-deep drifts. Neither street or sidewalk plow had made it to our street. We had nearly reached the second house down from ours when Mrs. Woodhouse stuck her head out of her front door and told us that she had just heard on the radio that school was cancelled for the day. 

          We ran back home and burst into the kitchen with the news. Grandpa was still eating his breakfast. 

          He looked over his coffee cup and said, "You can help me this morning, boy. It might keep you out of your mother’s hair.” 

          I quickly changed out of my school clothes and got ready to go with Grandpa Curt. The telephone rang. It was my classmate and closest friend, Ramsey. He wanted to know if I’d heard the news about school being cancelled and did I want to go sledding? With an air of importance, I told him that I had to help my Grandpa this morning, but when I was finished work, I could go sledding with him. I said that I’d come to his house later.

          Helping Grandpa Curt mainly consisted of riding shotgun in the Jeep while he plowed out all of the neighbors. All the neighbors, that is, except Mr. Mazzullo. Grandpa Curt was mad at Mr. Mazzullo because his dog had once barked late into the night and kept Grandpa awake. He had called Mr. Mazzullo at two-thirty in the morning to tell him that his dog was barking and keeping him awake and that Mr. Mazzullo might as well be awake too. Mr. Mazzullo had said something nasty to Grandpa that Grandpa didn’t like and then he hung up. The dog barked until morning. Mr. Mazzullo's driveway didn’t get plowed.

          Riding in the Jeep was great at first. In order to get to the neighbor's driveways, Grandpa had to plow the street. That Jeep would go anywhere, even the deepest drifts were no deterrent. Grandpa would gun the engine and would plow into the snow so fast that waves of snow crested over the cab of the Jeep. It was great fun, but soon I was bored. Grandpa Curt let me run the controls for the plow once in a while, but that got old too. Sensing this, Grandpa finished his last driveway in the neighborhood, then headed for downtown. Lower Sayles Street was still clogged with snow, but the Jeep had no trouble busting through the drifts. Lenox Avenue had been plowed, as had the main streets downtown. We stopped at a diner Grandpa called Trigger’s. Coffee at Trigger’s was part of Grandpa’s morning routine. He had introduced me as his assistant to the people in Trigger's when we arrived. I drank hot cocoa and ate a sugar donut while he chatted with several of his friends. From Trigger’s we went to Mr. Boucher’s cigar store on Madison Street, where Grandpa bought a couple of fat cigars and a box of White Owls. He gave me two nickels to buy penny candy.

          “Don't spend it all on yourself, get something for your sister too,” he instructed.

          After plowing out the parking lot at the Presbyterian Church, we headed back home. He drove into the yard and backed the Jeep in its usual spot, thanked me for all of my help and then he went into his shop. It was almost nine o'clock and Grandpa always opened his shop for business at nine o'clock sharp. I knew that I was done helping Grandpa and that I had been dismissed, however I followed him inside and asked if I could get my sled out of his cellar. 

          "You know where it is," he said.

          Grandpa Curt’s cellar was a spooky place, a labyrinth of chambers under his shop. There he stored stacks of lumber, all kinds of steel pieces, barrels of nails and bolts and nuts and washers, spools of wire, hardware, tools, welding tanks, boxes of stuff and a whole lot more. Single light bulbs barely lit each room and shadows darkened the corners. I hurried and found my sled and dragged it up the stairs into the shop. Grandpa Curt was talking on the telephone at the top of the stairs and wouldn’t let me pass until he was finished talking. He then took my sled, put on his glasses and looked it over.

           “The runners are rusty, boy,” he noted.  “Let me clean some of that stuff off.” 

          He took the sled to the grinder before I could protest and sparks started flying. He was done in two minutes, and handed me back the sled. All of the old paint and rust had been removed from the two runners. They were shiny and the edges were sharp. 

          “Be careful with this,” he said. “Now go.” He pointed to the door.  “Remember, don’t put your tongue on cold steel, you’ll stick to it.” 

          I smiled at this last warning. I knew what he meant. He had told me that previously, though once or twice I had tried it out and found the painful truth of that lesson.

          I learned early in life that Grandpa Curt had a short attention span with kids. His second dismissal of me signaled he had other things to do that morning and he wanted to get on with it. I left the shop after thanking him for the Jeep ride and the hot cocoa and the donut and the nickels at Mr. Boucher's store. I gave my sister her candy, told my Mom that I was going sledding and headed up the street toward Ramsey’s house.

          The City plow still had not been on Sayles Street, so the walk up the hill was slow. My sled was heavy. It really didn’t work well in deep snow. Runner sleds were best on packed snow and ice.  With the deep snow and the burden of the sled, it took longer than it should have to reach the State Highway at the top of Sayles Street. Once there, the walk was quick. Route 5 had been plowed and sanded. The walking was easy now with the sled almost weightless as the shiny runners glided upon on the hard snow on the shoulder of the road.

          Ramsey was ready to go as soon as I arrived. His plan was to go to the Oneida Country Club and sled on the hills. He thought that the snow was probably too deep for our runner sleds, so we each took aluminum saucers to use also. The golf course was down hill from Ramsey’s house, so we rode our sleds along the shoulder of the road, saucers clattering behind. My sled was fast, really fast. I was a quarter mile in front of Ramsey when I reached the entrance road to the Country Club, a point noted by my friend when he finally caught up with me. 

          The golf course was swarming with kids sliding on the hills.  Last night’s snowfall may have caused the cancellation of school, but it was no deterrence to the dozens of kids who had come here to enjoy the day off. I pushed off with my sled and sped down, then up the newly plowed entrance road to the main parking lot. My sled carried me to the parking lot on the momentum I’d made coming off the highway. Ramsey had to walk and drag his sled the last little way to the top.

          Our runner sleds were of little use in the deep snow, so we slid on the saucers and, later, on a borrowed toboggan until we were exhausted. By mid-afternoon the clouds had cleared, the air was chilled by a stiff wind from the north. We were wet and cold and about to quit sledding and go back to Ramsey’s place when we noticed kids coming up a service road from the back side of the golf course dragging runner sleds. We met the group and asked where they had been sledding. They said that the road was plowed up to the edge of a ravine. There, the road then dropped into the valley, very steeply, through the woods. In the summer, golf carts and mowers used the road to access the back part of the golf course, but it was unused in the winter. These kids had walked down into the ravine and used the lower part of the service road to slide with runner sleds. According to them, the road was glare ice and only a little snow had fallen on the ice because of the trees overhead. This sounded perfect, and we rode our sleds down the service road to a great mound of snow where the snowplow had stopped.

          “Holy cow,” said Ramsey.  He was looking down the road into the ravine in amazement.  “No way I’m sledding down that, we’ll get killed.”

          The road plunged precipitously from where we were standing. Straight down, so it seemed, for a hundred yard straightaway, then it disappeared with a sharp right hand turn. The side of the ravine climbed sharply upwards on the right and dropped perilously on the left. Tall evergreens hugged the road on both sides. There was very little new snow, only white ice and a slight powder. Prudence dictated we check things out, so we walked our sleds down the very edge of the road to the right curve.  After the sharp curve the road straightened for another hundred yards, just as steep, then turned left. Through the trees we could see a bridge where the road crossed the creek at the bottom of the ravine. We walked down further, toward the left curve. About half way through the last curve we started to see runner sled tracks on the ice. This is where the kids we had talked to had started to sled. We did the same. It was fantastic. It was fast. My sled flew on the ice, grabbed the curve, skidded sideways slightly, then shot down the straightaway to the bridge like a rocket. The opposite side of the creek was deep with snow and I raced into the fresh snow and disappeared with a poof. I looked back to see Ramsey slide around the curve, cross the bridge and disappear into the snow. He had gone about as far as the other sledders had gone, judging by the tracks. I’d slid a whole lot further. Slick runners, I thought. Energized, we did the slide another half-dozen times, each time gaining confidence and each time sliding farther into the new snow. 

          Our next run down the hill was from mid-way up the middle straightaway and it was lightning fast. I plunged a hundred feet deeper than before into the new snow at the bottom and jumped up with a shriek of exhilaration, just in time to see Ramsey spin out on the curve and slide off his sled. He and the sled parted and Ramsey slid on his backside almost to the bridge. He also jumped up with a yell and watched his sled crash into the creek.    

          “Let’s try it from the top,” Ramsey yelled. 

          “Yeah!” was my enthusiastic response.
          We climbed to the place at the top where Ramsey had first said that we’d be killed if we tried to slide down the road, the place the snowplow had stopped. Our confidence had peaked with the last few slides from mid-way up the road, consequently our earlier fears had dissipated, along with any common sense we might have had developed in our short lives.

          “I'm first,” exclaimed Ramsey.

          He ran a couple of paces, slammed his runners onto the ice and lay down on his sled. In a flash he was speeding along the ice. His old sled bounced along, skidding side to side toward the first turn. In a second he was out of sight around the turn. I could still hear the clattering of his sled runners on the ice. Several more seconds passed, then a scream and the sound of his sled hitting something, then silence. Several more seconds passed then the sounds of laughing from beyond the curve. Ramsey had crashed.    

           He yelled "I'm alright!"

          “Get out of the way,” I yelped and I ran as fast as I could and leapt onto my sled. 

          Instantly I was rocketing down the road, trees were a blur out of the corners of my eyes. I angled my sled for the inside of the first curve and hit it perfectly. The sharpened runners of my sled grabbed the ice as though they were ice skates and I skidded only a little around the turn. I accelerated and exited the curve in the center of the road. I picked up more speed as I bounced along the middle straightaway. I looked down at the front of my sled fondly, as though it were a part of me. It was beautiful. My hands fit the steering handle as though it was custom designed. This was wonderful. I’d never felt so good. Never before had I been moving so fast on a sled. Skittering across the ice, time seemed to stand still. I looked to the next turn and thought that I was steering toward a perfect entry into the curve. This was great. What a ride! What a fine job Grandpa Curt had done with my sled. Then, inexplicably, I put my face close to the sled and I put my tongue on the large metal rivet in the center of the steering handle. Instantly, of course, it stuck. My tongue was frozen solidly to my sled. I pulled, it hurt and stayed stuck. I looked up with my eyes and saw Ramsey standing along the side of the road looking at me in astonishment, knowing what I’d just done. Whoosh, Ramsey was behind me in a flash. I looked forward again and saw that the next curve was only seconds away. I tried to slow the sled by dragging my toes on the ice but this just made me wobble and miss my planned entry point into the curve. I hit the turn in the middle, not the left side as planned and the sled started skidding to the right. I dragged my feet again to help steer and at the same moment hit a bump. My body left the sled, most of it anyway. My tongue stayed attached. I came back down but only a part of me was still on the sled. My hands were still on the steering handle and my chest was partly on the sled. The rest of me was sliding on the ice. My body was pivoting by my stuck tongue. Another bounce and the sled hit the gravel on the side of the road. Sparks flew as the runners slid over rocks in the dirt. With another bounce, I again left the sled, except again for my stuck tongue. I crashed back onto the sled almost perfectly and seemed to gain some control of the speeding missile. I looked up to see that my exit from the curve placed me on a course that would miss the bridge over the creek entirely, but this I could not change in the few seconds I had before I hit the creek bank in a blizzard of snow. The sled and I went airborne and parted company. Each cleared the creek, crashing in a great avalanche of fresh snow on the opposite side. Neither was hurt. Well, the sled was fine. I, however, lost a huge chunk off the tip of my tongue when the sled and I parted. That piece of my tongue was still stuck to the sled. I was bleeding profusely.

          Ramsey came running over and said "That was the greatest sled ride I've ever seen!"

           He had watched the whole thing and was so excited he’d forgotten the large gash he put in his left ear when he flew off the road and he and sled and a pine tree collided. The sled was broken onto bits and he'd left it in the woods. Ramsey had rolled off the sled just before the collision and was mostly unhurt, except for his ear. He gave me a piece of ice from the creek to suck on to stop the bleeding in my mouth. He held a piece on his ear.

          Triumphantly, we ascended the hill and headed for home. I dragged my sled. Ramsey dragged the saucers. We were both bloody, cold, wet and tired, but so pleased. We had dared to and conquered the ride into the ravine.

          Ramsey and I said good-by where the golf course road met the State Highway. I rode my sled all of the way down Sayles Street, which had been plowed finally by the City. It was such a fast ride that I slid right passed my house. Of course, I needed to return my sled to Grandpa's cellar upon my return and he asked how it went when I went into the shop. I couldn't hide my excitement and told him about the fast ride into the valley at the golf course, most of it, that is. He surmised the part I left out from the blood on my face and the still-stuck tip of my tongue on the steering rivet of my sled. He slowly shock his head as he returned to his work.



  1. Sure remember those days of LOTS OF SNOW and FUN!!!
    Your Sister!

  2. Definitely, definitely counts as precious! I always enjoy your Dad's tales and look forward to them every month - and you are most welcome to pass that on!! What a gift he is giving you - thanks for letting us share.

  3. Fabulous, fabulous story, thanks for sharing. That sled sounds awesome.

  4. Oh and I forgot to say, I loved the story about Mr Mazullo.

  5. I was right there with your bits of tongue grow back?!
    Alison xx

  6. Man, that tongue sticking got me....YEEERKKKK! Such a BOY....remembering the excitement, not the agony...wonder what Mum said about the walking...well, 'talking' wounded:):):)!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Brilliant story Mitra, your Dad is a genius storyteller. I've written a few myself, I might just share them next Storytelling Sunday.

  8. Oh this is so well told, thank you for sharing :)

  9. Wow! I was right there with you on all your adventures. That hill must have been wonderful. We also had favorite places to sled and I remember the exhilaration of belly flopping on my sled down a hill and crashing at the bottom. Nothing but joy!

  10. I enjoyed this story so much and, I'm sorry but, I couldn't stop laughing when tongue first made contact with the sled :)

  11. What a great story. Thanks so much for sharing your Dad's tale.

  12. I could picture it all it was so well written! What an exciting story.


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