I found myself alone last week in Battery-Kemble Park, in search of a city snow story. I spent the afternoon tracking sled marks in the harsh afternoon wind, evidence that children earlier in the day had enjoyed the traditional rites of winter. But fate and southern breezes had conspired to put me there too late.
Wandering homeward, I passed Burleith Field at 37th and U Sts. above Georgetown University. The hills again attested to an earlier presence of cavorting children. The field, an extension of Glover Archbold Park, is ideally suited for sledding with two long runs on a tree-crowded hillside.
As I gazed across the darkening drifts, a strange and silent image formed. Suddenly I had returned to Suicide Hill.
Every hamlet in northern latitudes has one. Here the brave challenge the elements, daring fate in juvenile snow-madness. In trice we are one with the rich, powerful and famous, wintering in Gstaad and Aspen; the back of our mitten to Errol Flynn, in Switzerland to toboggan the Kreka Kiss, which to this day forbids women from racing its icy course.
The 400 feet of Suicide Hill included Crazy Man Mulligan's Slide, a grove of thick pine trees and a 20-foot brick wall that paralled the coastal highway. Then, for the foolhardy and unskilled, a sheer drop into the Atlantic Ocean.
My sister and I had been out along the course all afternoon. Several years older, she had the responsibility of looking after me, a task she performed with the diligence of Koko, the Lord High Executioner. She spent most of her time either punching me on the side of the head or sitting on my chest to quiet complaints that I wasn't having fun. We had two sleds, a brand new red-runnered Flexible Flyer and its poor cousin.
Poor cousin had been resurrected from retirement against a garage wall. Its rusted, busted, bent runners and peeling paint had accumulated a thick coat of dust through which the fading promise"American Rocket" could be barely deciphered.
I was bundled to the brink of immobility in the layers mothers eternally have inflicted on their children, and I soon learned that afternoon that hauling the crippled sled up the hill was a herculean task. In fact, the only way to accomplich it at all was to place the tethering rope around my waist, leaving both arms free to balance me in the upward slog.
As evening drew near and the cold settled, I'd had it and asked my sister if we could go home. She apparently had tired of shoving snow down my track and her response was simply a shove.
It took me several seconds to realize that the rapidly diminishing figure chasing silently through drifts after me, calling my name, was my sister. Held tightly around my waist by the tether line, with a foot wedged into the bent runner. I was racing backward, American Rocket's captive as we gathered speed. As we careened through Crazy Man Mulligan's Slide I managed to free my foot and turn over in time to see s stout pine tree looming ahead. Somehow we missed it, and several others. And I discovered that with the tether line securely around my waist i couldn't even venture the ignominous last resort of sledders - falling off.
The wall appeared, only its edge visible behind a bank of snow.Up the bank and over the wall we went, suddenly airborne.
"AAAArrrraaaaaaggghghghghghhhh," was the last cry heard as American Rocket and I soared toward the ocean. We missed over three of the four lanes of the parkway and might have made the drink but for a DeSoto. We caromed off its trunk and the impact shattered the Rocket and threw me into a snowbank on the median strip.
"Is he dead?" Mickey Hershkowitz asked Guido Zamboni, climbing down the wall to the highway.
"Are you dead?"
"I'm dead" came the tiny voice as I lay face-down in the snow, the small piece of rope still fixed about my waist.
"He's dead," Guido told my sister, consoling her.
My sister rolled me over and thrust her face an inch from mine.
"Are you O.K.?" she asked.
I sniffled, and managed "I'm...I'm...I'm...yeah" "If you tell anybody about this, "she said, "I'll kill you."