Man, I used to love the Winter Olympics! The cold, the snow, the ice……the competition! There’s nothing quite like the thrill of victory in a hard fought downhill race. And, there’s no agony of defeat quite like being left face down in the snow when your sled went airborne coming out of the second turn.
I’ve been there……on both occasions.
We might not a’had USA splashed across our toboggans in 1956; and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, the site of the games that winter, could have been on the moon for all we knew. Shucks, TV hadn’t even been invented out at the end of Stonewall Street back then. We had to make up our own pictures. The good news was we weren’t limited to Alpine Skiing, Curling, Biathlons or Cross Country treks. We didn’t Luge nothing, and praise the good Lord, we didn’t have to do any Figure Skating!
We were also unencumbered by time clocks, international judges and grownups. Freestyle in our games would be an understatement. If there was any accumulation of snow the snowball fight broke out. We fought in teams, we threw from behind the wood pile, we volleyed out in the open, we gave no quarter and we would usually end up “every man for himself”. After Leon showed us how to put a rock in the middle of the snowball to add weight and consistency, the games got a little more serious…….and on a few occasions, bloody.
We didn’t have to travel to Squaw Valley or Innsbruck for ice hockey. If it got really cold for a couple of days, we headed out to a semi-frozen Everett Lake. A sardine can sufficed as a playable puck. Brogans and broken tree limbs worked as skates and hockey sticks. We’d argue as we chose up teams and laid our jackets out as goals. This was serious business. Nobody would be the Russians! It was always America vs. Canada. We didn’t know any other countries. We played until someone got “high sticked” or somebody got shoved out too close to the middle of the lake where the ice wasn’t frozen plumb solid and fell through. That was the epitome of “agony of defeat”.
We held our Curling events in difference places. If there was enough snow we’d gather up on the hill out by Archie Moore’s place and “curl up” on a garbage can lid and race each other to the bottom. The enterprising ones among us would take a hammer and beat the handle down flat so as not to impede progress. Those round lids were hardly drivable and we had more “run into each other” crashes than anything else. Boxing matches, which were allowed in our Winter Olympics, would most always break out before a race winner could be declared.
Roof climbing was a major event held at the Colbert household. With a fair amount of snow, we’d climb out the upstairs window onto the roof over the porch and then swing up to the main roof. You can’t believe how slippery it was as we began to inch our way to the peak. But the spectacular view across the snow covered fields toward Bethel College was reward enough if you could make it to the top! I probably don’t have to describe to you the agony of defeat when you slipped.
The Bobsled races took place over on Forrest Hill. Nobody had a bobsled of course, but Ricky owned an old Radio Flyer with the flexible front runners. It was built for one person but we were kind’a small. We would crowd three or four of us on that thing and shove off. We raced right down the middle of Forrest Avenue because when it would freeze over you could whip up some Olympic style speed in a hurry! It intersected down at the bottom with Main Street. We had to hope traffic was light due to the inclement weather. There was no way to stop, or even slow down. We shot across Main Street and hit the opposite curb going a hundred miles an hour. The contest here was to see who could get thrown the farthest up toward the gray brick house when that Radio hit the curb!
As we grew older, the winter games grew with us. We’d attach an old Chevrolet car hood to the back of a pick-up truck with a forty foot piece of rope. We’d turn the hood upside down and a half dozen of us would crawl on. Leon would take off like Richard Petty down the Como Road! You can’t imagine the twists and curves on that narrow highway. We’d be bouncing in the snow covered ditch one minute and the next we’d be flying across the road to the other side! I’m telling you with my hand up, if that is not an Olympic event, there’s not a Russian in Sochi!
We never got to step up on a stand while somebody played the Star Spangled Banner. We didn’t appear on any Wheaties Boxes. But we also didn’t have to wait four years for the games to commence. And nobody that I know of ever got run over down there on Main Street.
I’d say we got the better end of the deal.