LEON BIBB: Recalling snowy days when school was closed and kids' sleds skidded slippery hills

Memories of sleds on slippery slopes on snowy days

CLEVELAND - On cold and snowy days like today, when the Cleveland Schools System thought it was too dangerous and troubling to have school, a high-pitched yelp would go up in my bedroom with the news there would be no need to trudge through mounds of snow.

"Yow-ee! Yow-ee!" I would scream. 

I could almost hear my boyhood friends next door and down the block screaming at the tops of their voices, too.  The snow would be too deep for students and teachers to make it to the schoolhouses, but it was not too deep for us boys to have some fun in winter's cold offerings.

The nearby hillsides were calling us. My sled was made of wood with metal runners. I knocked on the door of my next door neighbor. My cousins Allen and Myron met me, ready for a late morning or early afternoon on the hillsides. Along the way to the nearest hills, we picked up Carl, Otis, Winston,  Richard, and Reggie.

There would be other kids on the hill, taking advantage of no school. 

"Yow-ee! Yow-ee!." The screams of delight peppered the air if it was a holiday. Well, whenever school is called off, giving us long periods of time to sled on cold and snow days, it was a holiday.

The time was the 1950s and 1960s, when we lived on Parkgate Avenue in Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood. At the end of our street, one of the centerpieces of the the neighborhood was the Cultural Gardens of Cleveland which featured dozens of areas set aside to honor people of the many ethnic backgrounds who live in the city. Nearest garden to us was the Italian garden. 

Glenville Neighborhood

The Cultural Gardens stretched for more than two miles. It was situated in a sloping area where at its base, the Doan Brook, ran through. One of our hills went from near East Boulevard all the way down to Liberty Boulevard, now renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. From the top of that hill, a kid to make good speed shushing through the snow.

After several runs on our sleds and walks back up to the top once a ride was complete, the slope would become icy fast.

We pretended we were bobsledders in the Winter Olympics racing for the United States, pretending to accept gold medals placed around our necks for our fast trips.

The only problem on the hill was Liberty Boulevard. It curved through the picturesque area about 20 feet from the end of a good sled run. Any kid who get a good ride had to turn the sled sharply at the bottom of the hill or stick our his hands or feet to brake the speed.

Cars on Liberty moved along at about 30 miles an hour. Because the boulevard was a main thoroughfare the University Circle area, where many people worked, and a main highway running parallel to Lake Erie, there was always traffic.

A few times, we boys came dangerously close to skidding into the street. But most times, at the last second, we could brake the sled.

Over the decades, I have driven by our favorite hill many times. The Cultural Gardens are still there and the rolling landscapes of them are filled with my old footsteps.

All of us boys are now grown, of course, but sometimes we get together for reunions where we spin old stories of times as boys growing up doing the things boys do.

Today, on my way home, I will drive my old route through my old neighborhood. The traffic on the old boulevard will still be as heavy as ever. The gardens will be wearing their winter whites, soon to change into their spring wardrobes when the new season eventually gets its foothold in Cleveland.

I don't know if there will be kids on the hill. I do know there was no school today because of heavy snow. 

But I will look to the hills. I know once I approach our slope where my friends and I raced our sleds so many times so many decades ago, I will feel special words beginning to well up in me.  It is always that way when I travel this route. 

The words will start in the pit of me somewhere and slowly move upward through my body. I will think of my friends -- the boys with whom I have so many cherished memories of childhood -- and in my nostalgic thoughts, I will see us again.  I will hear our squeals and our last-second turns of our sleds to avoid the dangerous traffic.  I will recall how none of us was ever hurt seriously sledding.

As I pass the hill, I will feel the words ready to pass by the lump in my throat and lay on my tongue. I will say them as a thanks for a great childhood. I will say them as an appreciation for good times with good friends on snowy days. I will say the words at the top of my voice as I steer my car along the winding boulevard.

"Yow-ee!  Yow-ee! The words will come as tribute to strong memories of boys on sleds on icy slopes celebrating Winter's offerings.

RELATED: Find more My Ohio stories by Leon Bibb

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