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It was back in the sixties. The decade of the “troubles”. I was chairman of a committee of one organizing a convention of historians. We had been to meeting annually at various colleges in the state and this year my university was host. All the gatherings had been on campus but the “troubles” made it prudent to find an off-campus site for a meeting, even if our placid friendly group was in no way connected with campus problems.
Thus I began by calling for papers from the members and hiring up a meeting place at the Red Carpet Inn. It started off real easy as these things do but as the time, “H-hour” approached, tension mounted. The menu had to be selected with the cost. The number attending determined and all the rest of the minutae. All went well, but I felt more and more pressure as this detail or that had to be adjusted, until finally the day arrived.
I awoke that morning at five. At once I realized that it was too early but I couldn’t get back to sleep. I reminded myself to relax and not get nervous. Everything was OK, I insisted. Don’t go nervous. But I got up anyhow and showered and shaved after my constitutional. I got out the wrong under things and got that straightened out. Don’t get nervous I kept reminding myself.
I dressed and had some breakfast. After making the coffee too strong and nearly upsetting the cereal in my lap, I started out too early to check on the arrangements I had made at the Inn. Were they all as I had arranged? Don’t be nervous. Sure they are. Those folks are responsible and experienced inn keepers. Relax. Don’t get nervous. And surely as I checked out the setting, everything was in order. The out of towners were beginning to arrive and I greeted them and showed them around. By now the strong coffee was making demands on my bladder. I had to ignore the call time again as more members arrived. Finally begin to get edgy. It was more and more urgent. Don’t get nervous now I said to myself. Just relax. But as time passed I knew something had to be done and for that condition only one thing was vital. Get to that men’s room. Yet every time I got near the door something or someone needing help got in between me and that door. I was approaching desperation when finally the group was seated and the first speaker introduced and into his speech. In great relief I strolled to the rear of the room and quietly slipped out and over across the hall to that room. “See, I said to myself, nothing to be nervous about”. But I hurried in anyhow. I got the apparatus designed for our express purpose and gratefully unzipped. Relief was at hand. But!
Consternation! I struggled. I couldn’t believe it. I had put on my shorts on backwards.
When I was a kid, I had buddies who thought certain things were fun and so did I. We had season favorites. In summer we played ball and went swimming in the “crick” at Pleasant Valley Park, run in those days by Tubby Mallard. In the winter we skated on the “crick” and slid down the hill at Pleasant Valley.
We called it Devil’s Hill because I suppose that made it really bad. If you sledded a hill, what could you say about it? But Devil’s Hill was something else again.
Devil’s Hill was at the foot of Concordia Avenue. The street stopped, but a long sweeping curve of gravel road swung in a big crescent, first north then east and south and ended at the bath house. Running the road was treacherous because of the curve. If your sled was a Flexible Flyer you could steer to the right and make it — maybe. If you couldn’t steer you dragged your feet but that slowed you down to a sissy speed . So you let her rip and if you couldn’t hold the inside of the curve you just flew off into trees and bushes and got all snowed under. If you hit a tree you got hurt, yet nobody I knew ever did. I didn’t have a “Flyer” but Herb had a sled and I did too, so we bolted a plank between the two and had a long bobsled. The front sled steered with a rope. When we first ran it we dumped and rolled A over T [ass over teakettle… ed.] because the lead sled buckled. We fixed it and tried again. It was great. We all (four of us) leaned to the right on the turn and buzzed all the way to the bath house. Over and over we ran, then climbed the hill dragging that sled behind us. Well, after a while we got tired of that tame run. Besides, only one guy had fun steering and the rest just rode. So we took the bobsled apart and had a better idea. Why not shoot the steep hill right in the middle of that crescent? Devil’s Hill was born.
From the top of the hill to the river was about 200 feet as I reckon it today. It dropped steeply at about a 60 degree angle and curved up sharply to meet the road, then over the flat road and down another drop of about ten feet, then a gentle slope to the river’s edge where another drop of two feet off a pier put us on the frozen river. In profile the hill looked like this:
The hill had ruts and ridges and trees and things stuck up thru the snow. There just wasn’t a straight path down. We stood at the top. “We” meant Herb, George, Fats and some other guys I don’t remember. We discussed the prospect of a run. I do too recall who the other guys were Mike Beyer, Lenny W---- [?], and Jerry Berger. Fats said he’d try it first. As always before hazardous action, Fats crossed himself, and belly whopped his short sled straight down Devil’s Hill.
Before we knew it, he had wiggled around a stump and flown over a rut about half way down. While airborne he headed for and smashed into a solid 18” oak. He and his sled kind of climbed three feet of the tree and then fall back. Fats lay quiet for a bit then got up slowly and thoughtfully climbed the hill along the path he blozed [?].
As a philosopher, actor and general con man, Fats had no equal in our gang. (He joined the Police Force later). Anyhow, he analyzed his run, complete with gestures and commentary and finally decided that, if he ran to the left of that stump and steered before he got to that rut, he could make it all the way. Fats licked his lips, signed himself again with the cross, stared intently down the hill for a long moment, then belly whopped. He went flat out. He zipped past that oak, a stump, and a big rock, then hit the road incline at top speed. Up he sailed then flopped and disappeared behind the road. We saw him again as he barreled on to the dock and dropped to the ice. He slid about 40 ft. and stopped. He sat on his sled for some time then started back up the hill.
We saw him red faced and out of breath up there on the top and he nonchalantly said it wasn’t too bad. He lectured us on where the danger spots were and how to avoid them. He answered our questions with an off hand remark or two and took off on his third pass. This time without crossing himself. God had come through and we knew he was with us. After all, you call on God in danger and Fats proved there was no danger to really bother God about.
One by one we tried the run. We followed Fats’ path, then dared a new one or two and finally reached the point where the run downhill was routine. Now the object was to get out as far as possible on the icy river. I got halfway, to beat them all, but after all these years I can admit I cheated a bit.
That year’s winter was a great one. We had discovered, named and conquered Devil’s Hill. I don’t know why but we never ran that hill again after that first year. Maybe it was because we had more fun skating on the playground ice rink. That’s another story though and not at all exciting.
I have always believed in God , in Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I can’t remember a time in my life that I doubted. I also believe that Mary is the mother of Jesus. I never doubted this either. I believe that most people who were ever born on this earth and died are saints. Some are not, I’m sure. I am convinced that I will be a saint and that I’m practicing being one now, though I’m fumbling at it. That doesn’t worry me too much because the fight is many-sided and most confusing and my born-with bent for evil is always ready and willing to frustrate my best intentions. With St. Paul, I agree that I do what I should not at times. He lived with that nagging condition throughout his life, convinced that the grace of God would prevail over all evil. That doesn’t mean I don’t have my doubts about the whole affair. I don’t know if Paul is in heaven. I don’t know where heaven is or what. Oh, I’ve been told by other humans who tell me that God says this and that or in the Bible. But men wrote the Bible and other men tell me it was under God’s direction. But I don’t know - I believe for all sorts of good reasons. Good to me anyhow.
I reason that this great universe, including earth, just couldn’t simply happen. An intelligence and power are evident to me. The process by which everything came to be doesn’t bother me. Direct creation or evolution — no matter— God did it and perfectly.
After proofreading an early typed version, Mom sent along another bit of Dad’s (unfinished) writing:
I almost died because of rocks. In high school science class we looked into (I can't say we studied) all sorts of marvelous things. One study caught my fancy. It was rocks. I found out some were fire-formed, others by sedimentation, still others by deposits on sea bottoms and so on. There were samples of these in boxes and jars all with fancy labels. I determined to have collection of my own. It was cheap and rocks were everywhere for the picking.
It was either Spring or Fall. All I remember is there were no leaves on the trees, no snow or ice, but chilly enough to be wearing longies and at least a couple of sweaters, with heavy socks and leather highshoes.
This story was not finished, but Louie told me how he filled all his pockets with chosen rocks, some of which were very heavy. He came to the river and some in the water that he decided to add to his collection. He walked into the water, it was deeper than he thought, his wool underwear and heavy pants got wet, he started having difficulty walking but continued after his chosen rocks. It never occurred to him to empty his pockets, he said. He picked up the rocks, headed back to shore, fell head first into the water, still hanging on to the rocks. Somehow he struggled up and walked his soggy way home, got into the basement where he dried off. He saved his stones and never told anyone about his brush with disaster.