We never ventured onto Lockwood’s Hill during the summertime, but once the first crunchy layer of white coated its slopes, we knew the witch was snowbound and we would have the place to ourselves. Then out of the garage would come the wooden Flyers and the sounds of singing runners echoed again through the winter air.
Probably one of the few land uprisings of any proportion in the entire city of Buffalo, NY, Lockwood’s Hill still crouches low between Downing St. and Dorrance near the Lackawanna city line. But although the old dirt road still runs up past the water town and the ancient house, streets have been carved into the sides where we spent so much of our childhood winters.
There never really was a witch who occupied that Victorian dwelling on the crest of the hill, but rumors were rampant. The mere thought of coming to a toe-to-toe meeting with Old Annie deep in the woods was enough to keep me away. There were, however, a few devil-may-cares who scorned the relative safety of the windswept slope in order to attempt a slalom run through the trees, often ending in a bone-jarring collision with a sturdy oak.
The hill was good enough for me. Taking a good lengthy run off the top, I’d flop down on my outstretched sled and careen madly down, wind singing in my ears and a spray of snow blinding all vision. A good run was one that ended in a low soggy place near the sidewalk on Downing St., and although it might result in a soaked mitten or boot, that was the ultimate. One could literally go no further.
One winter, someone built an ice slide. It was slick and bumpy and extremely dangerous, but it eliminated the problem of dragging your sled back up the steep and slippery incline. As I recall, it was given a coating of ashes after a near fatality. There was also a group of madcaps who actually had skis! They were usually older boys, but occasionally girls, and they constructed small jumps to test their skills. For the reset of us, though, sleds were fine. They were a lot easier to steer than today’s molded plastic or inflatable tubes.
What I remember most of all was the six block walk back home, after darkness had fallen, though silvery mica crystals of snow. Tired, hungry, and cold, thoughts ran on ahead to a warm house, a welcoming family, a hot meal of mashed baked potato and carrots, and a quiet evening around the radio.
Although we didn’t know each other then, Pat and I had actually zipped down the same hill, possibly passing each other or narrowly avoiding a collision halfway down. We walked through that same winter air to different houses, but to the same feelings of warmth and belonging. Every age has its simple pleasures. I doubt if they’re any different now for our own children and grandchildren. It only seems that way.
A few weeks ago, while driving home, Pat said he had a sudden urge to grab me and a sled and head over to the hill at Beartown. My first thought when he mentioned this was a deep shudder. Then I thought about it. True, a few years had gone since that last bellyflop on Lockwood’s Hill and we were too fond of our bones to risk that again. But did it mean we were too old for a little fun? Not on your life!