Sunday, November 27, 2011

Story on Sunday: Tongue Tied by Bruce Mero (aka, my Dad)

Tongue Tied

It had snowed during the night, copiously, and as I ate breakfast, I could hear the sounds of Grandpa Curt and his Willies Jeep, plowing snow out of the driveway. 

Before my Cheerios were finished, Grandpa came through the back door, stamped snow from his overshoes and took off his coat.  “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.  I’d be surprised if school wasn’t cancelled.”

My sister and I looked at each other, wide-eyed, and then at my 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 only reached the second house from ours when Mrs. Woodhouse stuck her head out of her front door and told us that she had just heard that school was closed. 

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 help keep you out of your mother’s hair.” 

I quickly changed out of my school clothes and got ready to go with Grandpa Curt, when 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 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 had barked until morning.  Mr. Mazzullo's driveway didn’t get cleared.

Riding in the Jeep was fun at first, but soon I was bored.  Grandpa Curt let me run the controls for the plow once in a while, but that got old, also. Sensing this, Grandpa finished his last driveway in the neighborhood, then headed the Jeep for downtown.  Sayles Street was 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.

“Get something for your sister also,” 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. He thanked me for all of my help and then he went into his shop.  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 and looked it over.

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

He took the sled to a grinder before I could say anything 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 taught me that lesson previously.

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 candy, 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.  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 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 hundred or so 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 top 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 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 with 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.  We were told that the service road we were on was plowed up to the edge of a ravine.  At the edge of the ravine, the service 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 runner sled.  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, or so it seemed, for a couple of hundred yards of 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.  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.  Here the road straightened for another several hundred yards, just as steep, then turned left.  Through the trees we could see the end of the road where it 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 into the new snow at the bottom than before 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 sled down the road, the place the snowplow had stopped. 

“I'm first,” exclaimed Ramsey.  He ran a couple of paces, slammed his sled on 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, but he was all right.

“Get out of the way,” I yelped and I ran fast and jumped 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 they were custom designed. This was wonderful.  I’d never felt such a feeling.  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 turn.  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.  It 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 done.  Whoosh, Ramsey was gone 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 feet behind the sled but this just made me wobble and miss my entry 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 dirt 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 for my frozen 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.  I was bleeding profusely.

Ramsey came running over and said that that was the greatest sled ride he’d ever seen. He had seen 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 his sled and a pine tree collided.  The sled was broken onto bits and he'd left it at the base of the tree he'd hit.  Ramsey had fallen off 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 bloody, cold, wet and tired, but we were pleased.  We had conquered the hill.

What better way to spend a snow day?


  1. What could be better! Family memories, candy, no school, snow, speed and sparks and triumphant ending! FABULOUS story. Why aren't you published yet? ;)


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