McDowell Technical Community College

Tim’s Treasures

Sled Hill

By Timothy W. Tron

Burke County

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”-John 10:10

As a child, I never understood why standing on top of Sled Hill and overlooking the trees, rooftops, and steeples in the tiny town of New Harmony made me feel as if I were somewhere else; somewhere in another place and time. Life would eventually lead me on a journey, led by the Master’s hand, to mountain tops beyond my wildest dreams, back to a beginning that no one knew. In those places, the grandeur of God’s majesty would take my breath away as He would open my mind to the Truth. It was as if back then, He was preparing me for the future, but it was beyond my comprehension, as it so often is. But before those magnificent peaks and that walk of faith came a humble beginning. Yet, even now in my mind’s eye, I can still see that view on a sunny day as clouds whisked overhead, throwing shadows that raced across the lush green pastures below that were sewn into a patchwork of squares that bordered the edge of town on the farm we knew as home. It was here on this hill, which to us was a mountain in those days, that the event of a lifetime would occur on a snowy day; quite unlike that bright sunny day, yet so full of wonder and awe that it would take a multitude of memories to contain it all.

Christmas was just around the corner, so everyone was anxious for our first snowfall of the season. The weather on that winter morn was gray and dull with clouds hanging so low it felt like you could reach up and touch them. The forecast was for a few inches of snow, but by noon, there was already a blanket of white so deep it covered everything around that old farmhouse there on the edge of town that sat just below Sled Hill. As the snowflakes fell like giant goose-down feathers, more and more family began to gather until the house couldn’t contain us all and at the suggestion of grandma, we lit out for Sled Hill with anything we could find that might act as a sled, including one real working sled. At that point, it was just us kids, out on an exploratory expedition. Looking back, grandma’s suggestion for us to go explore the sledding conditions were a perfect way to quiet the house and make more room for the adult family who had come to visit. For us kids, it was the perfect excuse to play in the snow. Either way, it would become soon become the stuff of legends.

I don’t know which of us tried to go down first, but by the time we reached halfway up the famous hill, the snow was so deep you couldn’t slide down easily without first making a trough. The initial attempts all met with crashes. It wasn’t until someone made a run nearly to the bottom of the hill that our luck began to change. It wasn’t long before the runs were stretching out into unbelievable lengths. Soon it was apparent that a report back to home base was necessary; this was going to be the sledding event of the century; Christmas had come early!

We went up and down that hill so many times that afternoon that we eventually became wore out and had to return back to the house for warmth and recuperation. If you knew us kids, you knew that for us to have to stop doing something that much fun was a clear indication of our exhaustion. As we retold of the excitement while sipping hot chocolate and eating grandma’s hot fresh homemade cookies, some of the adults had to go check it out for themselves. A few of us escorted them back to the hill, which was a good hike that went past the tractor barn, up the long lane that passed the garden at Ms. Wolfe’s house, past the backside of the Labyrinth, past the bullpens and eventually to the pasture gate at the far end. All along the lane were huge Catalpa trees that would provide an unending supply of fishing bait in the summertime from the worms that would fall off their leaves but now stood barren and dark as ominous figures that loomed overhead which stood as bulwarks against the snowstorm; one side becoming white as they too became part of the ever-increasing snow-scape. Once you reached the pasture gate, you had a good quarter mile to reach the base of the hill, that now stood silent and foreboding as the snow-covered sled run loomed white disappearing into the snowfall from above, becoming one in their obscurity of eyesight.

The report from our adult led expedition told of some of the best sledding conditions that they had ever seen in their lifetime. Our eyes nearly popped out of our heads at this exclamation. The wheels were soon put into motion for preparations for a night sled, something we children had never heard of nor thought of before. Grown men began to brainstorm, and the idea of putting torches along the sled run was thrown out. “And why not,” came a reply which soon put some of the creative minds in the family to work to build the home-made torches that soon lined the sled path before darkness had set in putting off a warming glow to the gleaming white ice that had begun to form on the trail to the top of the hill. I don’t know what we ate, nor when we ate, all I can recall to this day was sledding and sliding down the hill that loomed like a monolithic icicle in the night sky. The hill became so slick that the only way to get back to the top was to find footsteps on the side of the run that had been made before; otherwise, you’d find yourself sledding without a sled. By the end of the night, only the brave or fool hearty would slide from the top of the hill, so fast and slick was the ice. Those who did try found themselves becoming human torpedoes flying down the hill as their sleds raced ahead.

While we kids were climbing up and down the hill, a giant bonfire began to grow, where we would find ourselves warming our frozen extremities and finding hot dogs or other fire baked goodies to satisfy our hunger that had grown without our knowledge. As the faces of family and friends gathered around the blaze, we realized that when grandpa and grandma were also there gathered around that giant fire, this was the event of a lifetime. Grandpa would rarely venture out this time of night especially when he had the 3:00 AM milking coming, but this was no ordinary day or night. We continued on that night until arms and legs would no longer move and slowly we all left the snowfall and ice-covered hill behind. As the embers of the fire began to glow in the darkness, the last snowflakes fell into its warmth with a hiss. A tiny puff of smoke escaped and drifted above into the night sky, like our memories that drifted off with our sleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows that night.

In the event of a lifetime, a memory was made that affected so many its recollection brings forth memories from so many that if we were all gathered together, you might mistake our ages as children once again and hear the crunch of snow underfoot as our minds race down that hill once more.

There have been many Christmas seasons that have come and gone since that day. Many of those adults have gone on home to be with the Lord while others have grown and moved away. The old farmhouse was torn down and the farm drastically altered to adapt to changing times. The old milk barn is still there, but now it is the offices and warehouse for a flower farm. While one can stand at the road that once went by the house and look back to where the old front porch used to sit, it is only then, in the mind’s eye can we see from whence we came. Time is the thief that comes to steal and destroy, but we cannot allow it all to slip away.

Life is about living, our past and our mutual experiences and sometimes, those all combine into the unforgettable.

A life lived abundantly.

So, it was and always shall be with our “Sled Hill.” Somewhere in your life, you too have had or will have a “Sled Hill.” When you do, or if you have, embrace those memories or that time with all you can, for it sometimes only comes around once in a lifetime.

Again, live life abundantly, and strive to make the most of every opportunity.

Thanks be to God.