Like most Western New Yorkers, I associate Christmas with snow. I read that we have, on average, a 65 percent chance of a white Christmas each year, but in my memory every yuletide season was snowy and cold. As kids, our dad would take us to the bloodiest of sledding hills, Chestnut Ridge.
Back then, there were no designated areas for walking back up the hill, so you took your life in your hands when you tried to climb back up. With aluminum saucers and big heavy sleds with steel runners flying down the hill, you were either quick or dead. Some of the “big kids” used to actually aim at you as they raced their death machines. Seeing kids knocked head over heels was common. It was Pork Chop Hill.
Then there was the ice rink at Cazenovia Park in South Buffalo. I was never much of a skater, but one Christmas I headed over there to try out my new CCMs. It would be the first and last time I would strap on ice skates. The rink was supervised by teenage boys who were more interested in snow bunnies than safety. One of my friends, Mark, flew up behind me and checked me like an NHL goon. The next thing I remember was waking up on the ice as someone waved smelling salts under my nose. The entire rink had stopped skating and everyone was staring down at me.
Two guys guided me on a slow skate of shame to the building attached to the rink. I was told to sit still for 10 minutes and that was the full extent of my medical attention. I walked home with a steady buzz in my ears and never told my parents. This little incident goes a long way in explaining future academic shortcomings.
In high school and college, my holiday outings revolved around Genesee and Schmidt’s beer. My friends and I would get out of our homes as soon as possible after Christmas dinner with the family. We’d meet up and stand in the snow swilling cheap beer or Boone’s Farm wine. It was hardly a scene from Dickens.
Once I married, my holiday traditions centered more on family. One Christmas Day, my brother and I decided to take our kids to a sledding spot in the Village of Hamburg called Guenther’s Hill. This place is like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. We really didn’t fit in.
One of my nephews got one of those giant inner tubes from Santa. In a moment of weakness, my brother decided to take a solo run down the hill. In a moment of stupidity, I jumped on his back as he started down the hill. Now, little brother and I are big guys; we comprised nearly a quarter ton of Irishmen on that tube and we were moving like a freight train. Mothers screamed; frightened children ran for their lives; and my brother – a former football player who was then in law enforcement – screamed like a 7-year-old girl.
Some of the kids had built a mogul halfway down the hill and when the SS O’Connor hit it, we went airborne. I believed I might die and this was not how I wanted to go. You could almost see the headline: “Brothers tube to their death as horrified children look on.”
We reached the base of the hill and I remembered that 18 Mile Creek was up ahead. So I did what any older brother would do in such a situation – I jumped off. My little brother was able to stop the tube a few feet short of the icy cold creek. He walked up and shoved the tube at me while seething: “Don’t ever do that again!”
Well, Merry Christmas.