Saturday, February 22, 2014

Kill on the Hill

I was watching the Giant Slalom event at the Winter Olympics the other night and was reminded once again of just how terrible a skier I once was- and now with 7 toes I am betting I could be much worse! But still the thought of going down that mountain appeals to me, and I really think I could do it on a sled. I was always a beast on a sled! Those thoughts took me back to childhood (2 days in a row!) and a game we used to play on those rare occasions when we got a decent snow in Greensboro, NC. Almost everyone in my neighborhood had a sled that looked very much like the one pictured here, and when the snow got deep enough and the roads froze over, we broke them out and gathered on Underwood Drive to risk our lives. It was called Kill on the Hill. And it went something like this...

I lived in a large residential section, but there was really only one hill worthy of sledding. It was a fairly short stretch of road, but the incline was steep. As soon as it would start snowing hard the traffic would find ways to bypass the hill, so the snow stayed fresh and lasted longer than most NC snow. Usually by the first night, Underwood Drive was slick as glass, and we were ready. It was go time. Kids of all ages would gather and lug their sleds to the top of the hill. We all knew the drill. Line up across the road. Wait for someone- anyone- to yell "GO!" Get a running start and dive onto your sled skeleton style (see picture) because sitting up could get you killed. Any may the best person win.

So what was the goal, and what were the rules? It was simple- be the first person to reach the bottom of the hill, and do ANYTHING you could to stop others from getting there. There were those who tried to race to the bottom each time and win with sheer speed. They were usually disappointed by the other sledders like me, who would catch them from behind, grab their runners, and yank their sleds out from under them. With violence! Or perhaps they would be pushed into one of the ditches that were on either side of the street. Sometimes sledders would work as team, pinching the leader between two sleds until they just abandoned their ride and begged for mercy. My sled was short, and could turn on a dime, and I loved chasing people down and dumping them. Reaching the bottom was one way to win. Making sure others did not was my preferred way to win! Did people get banged up, bruised and occasionally bloodied? Oh yea. But this was the 1970s. We had never heard of bicycle helmets, safety goggles or antibacterial wipes. We were just discovering seat belts. Our parents sent us out there fully aware of what was going on- and they didn't care! Some would come out to watch and cheer us on, but there was no "don't do that- you might get hurt!" Of course we would get hurt. We were playing Kill on the Hill!

But in all the years we participated in this wacky sporting event, there was only one major injury. It was bad. It was gruesome, And it was a sick kind of hilarious! I was probably in 7th grade or so when we were playing one night and a high school girl named Kim joined us on the hill. Kim was a cheerleader, a very popular girl who none of the main cast of characters knew very well. But on this night she wanted to play. Like most rookies, she took off and tried to race straight to the bottom, and because she was older, pretty, and a bit unknown we just let her go the first few times while mayhem and chaos ensued behind her. She began to gloat about her winning ways, but no one was quite ready to attack her sled. She began one last run with a shout of "you can't catch me" and took off. She was flying, and one of the guys decided to give chase, nipping at her heels all the way down. She kept looking back to see if he was going to catch her, when someone else caught him and runner-yanked him. She began to laugh and celebrate and look back to taunt us- completely forgetting that the finish line that night was marked by a car parked on the t-intersection at the bottom. A bright yellow AMC Gremlin. We yelled for her to look out, and she did- at exactly the wrong moment. She went face first into the side of that car with a huge SPLAT. She broke her nose, and the sight of the blood on that yellow car and the white snow was quite impressive. She was eventually fine- the Gremlin never recovered. And the story took on mythic proportions as the years went by...

So today I raise a glass to the warriors of days gone by and the great days and nights we spent playing Kill on the Hill. I would suggest it to those of you who are still buried in snow from this terrible winter, but in today's world by the time you got on all of the required safety equipment the snow will have melted. Maybe someone can turn it into a video game (KMN). Or maybe I can get it into the 2018 Winter Olympics. I feel a comeback coming on...

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