A Nice Day for a White Sledding

a local winter memory

Emma O'Brien

V1 Writer Katie Venit and her twin sister go sledding thanks to Dad.
V1 Writer Katie Venit and her twin sister go sledding thanks to Dad.

It was 1989. I was growing up on the edges of Eau Claire’s Forest Hill Cemetery, the best playground any hyperactive, adventurous young kid could dream of. That Christmas I received a hot pink plastic two-seater racing sled, the kind with foot slots so you could lean back and gain ultimate speeds. As a 3-year-old girl, I was, of course, more fascinated by the sled’s color than its aerodynamic capabilities.

My dad and I took it for a spin one fateful afternoon on Seven Bump Hill. Also called Dead Man’s Hump, Seven Bump Hill was located on the Eastern side of Forest Hill Cemetery, where Huebsch meets Badger. Young East Side Hill residents may think they know the same sledding hill, but they are mistaken. In my day, the hill was treacherous – far steeper and far bumpier than what it has now become after two decades of erosion.

We normally drove to the hill, and approaching it from the bottom made my tiny legs quake in fear at the steep incline before me. I never had the guts to pull my sled even halfway up the hill to start my descent. But on one particular occasion, my dad and I journeyed to Seven Bump Hill the back way, through the cemetery woods that ran from our neighborhood along the ridge overlooking Plank Street Hill. Seeing the top of the hill for the first time, it didn’t look so bad after all.

As my father placed himself in the back seat of the sled, I bravely took a seat in front and grabbed the yellow steering ribbon. The sled picked up speed immediately, with the weight of a grown man propelling it downward. As the sled hurdled over each of the seven bumps, I let out little half-excited, half-terrified yelps. Sometime around bump number five, the sled began to feel much lighter, and I turned around to see the bulky shape of my father rolling over the final bumps ‘til he lay motionless in the snow.

Later that night, and for nearly a week afterward, I recall sitting at his bedside as he lay in agony, recovering from the injuries wrought by Seven Bump Hill. The smell of Tiger Balm still permeates my memories, and I can vividly see my mother rubbing it on the yellowing bruises covering my father’s back. I don’t think he ever went down that hill again. In the end, I think it was his pride that was most injured, having been thrown from a bright pink child’s sled at the mother of all sledding hills.