I was born and raised in a small Iowa town nestled in a little area off a state highway, population 300. There wasn’t much to it but what was there was pretty: an oval park smack dab in the center, and when the sewer running through it was covered up, was downright enjoyable to walk through. The hills were peppered with homes of all shapes and sizes and trees of all kinds – lots of trees in beautiful summer greens or bursts of autumn oranges, reds and yellows.
The whole town was my playground. My two best friends lived at the end of my street. Dianne, Elaine and I were always together, running around the neighborhood or going to the park, and always wondering what it would be like to be all grown up.
There were two churches in the town. The one sitting majestically atop the town’s highest hill, and the smaller one at the bottom and center of the town, on one side of the park. It was a town of The Catholics and The Non-Catholics. It was The Catholics who built upon the hill. No modest, unassuming structure for them, thank you kindly. The imposing brick structure had been one of five: the church, the rectory, the convent, the grade school, and the high school. The brick convent, grade school and high school were torn down years after I moved away.
The Non-Catholics, on the other hand, were satisfied with a little white, dignified wooden structure that was heated by a pot-bellied stove. Growing up, my brothers and I were never allowed to fraternize with “those other folks”. I only know about the pot-bellied stove because I peeked through a window on my brother’s dare. To this day, I still don’t know who those Non-Catholics were, where they lived or went to school.
But the Church hill is what I especially recall during these, my adult winters. That hill was always the best for sleigh riding. It was slanted downhill just right for keeping up your speed…long so it was a good ride and worth the walk back up…and, if you got the speed of the sled going just right, and caught those sporadic bits of ice patches along the way to keep your momentum going, you could get all the way to the flat bottom and keep a’going. We kids were catered to by the grown up folks during the winter, especially after a great snowstorm. An adult, mindful of the good snow and knew we’d get our sleds out, would grab a wooden safety beam with inverted V legs, and set it at the bottom of the hill, effectively closing it off to drivers. This assured we could ride down the hill in safety and not one adult soul minded having to go around to get where they were going, or that we slicked the road so bad during our sleigh riding, that it was a bit tricky to get up in a car.
But I don’t think anyone really needed a sign. The adults just knew to keep their cars away from the church hill after a snowfall or they would run over a sledder.
We kids wanted the best ride, not just an okay one. It was an okay ride if your sled stopped at Elaine’s grandmother’s house halfway down; a good ride if it stopped at Herrig’s garage as the street leveled; but a great ride if you coasted another half block to Manderscheid’s Tavern. We diehards who would use our feet to push a bit and making it to Manderscheid’s, always got off our sleds, cocky and proud while walking back the Herrig or grandmother groups. We knew our stuff – the wind direction, the icy patches, the bit of umph when you started at the top. None of which we shared with each other.
After a couple hours, usually when the sun started fading, we’d admit the end of a day and drag our sleds home. My brother and I would park our sleds near the porch, ready to grab the next day, jump onto the porch and walk into the toastiest, warmest kitchen you could ever imagine…toes and fingers tingling and noses running. Usually, the smell of super cooking on the stove could be detected, amidst Mom’s loud “Don’t you dare track that snow into my house! Get those boots off NOW!” order. And so we did.
As I look out now upon the snow capped roofs of my neighborhood…eye a neighbor shoveling the garage driveway…thinking I should probably do the same…I am not an adult woman…I am not living here. I am a kid, racing down that hill in Iowa…and you can darn well bet I’ll make it to Manderscheid’s tavern again.