Thursday, September 06, 2007

Cemetery Hill

South Jersey doesn't get much snow. Maybe a few storms of 4 to 6 inches a year. When I was young it was a particularly snowy era but not really and truly deep snows. In Jersey City in 1996 we got over three feet of snow. That never happened in Wenonah. But we cherished snow. We lived for snow. We waited for it from December till March and it always seemed to come.
When it came we went sledding. You might recall that I've said Wenonah is relatively flat. Flat is not really the word for it. Devoid of contours would be more appropriate. There was only one real hill near Wenonah and that was in Mantua in the cemetery named Wenonah. It was just across the Mantua Creek and every kid from Mantua and Wenonah flocked there once there was an inch or two of snow. There were three main sled ways in the cemetery. The steepest had no graves and led directly to the woods and beyond the creek. The second was just to the right and had a few strategically placed headstones for your slaloming pleasure. The third was the road that wound through the cemetery. The road wasn't always idyllic but since snow was sparce but cold was not the snow would freeze and present an crazy iced run to hell.
The minute snow started falling we'd pull our Flexible Flyer's and Flying Saucers out of garages and wax them up. Then legions of bundled up nitwits would head down Mantua Avenue to the Wenonah Cemetery for the joy of hurtling downhill at breakneck speeds on iron and wood.
Each winter gave up it's own delights. Deep snow here that allowed you to surf standing up on your sled. Icey roads that let you run headlong for hundreds of yards down the road. Snows that let us build ramps so when you got to the end you'd soar, oh, maybe a foot or two in the air, before you crashed like a knucklehead into the brush.
Little kids with older brothers, parents in cars with young kids, teenagers, all of us flocked to the cemetery. To fly like wild people in the snow. Cold as hell, terrible mittens that never kept you warm, jeans soaked in snow and soggy long johns and down and up we'd plunge.
Cold and sun and snow all around us. Ignoring, not really even noticing the headstones of our forebears all around us. When my mother died my father bought a plot overlooking the creek for them both. When I was very ill I went to visit my mother's grave but couldn't find it. But I could see every route our sleds took! I could see us proud as lions standing on our sleds jetting to our doom.

1 comment:

Jim Maddox said...

Ride your bike for any length of time and you come to realize that South Jersey is not flat, it undulates. Every now and then, you come across a staggeringly steep rise and find yourself hitting a "wall". It's much like the other false impression of New Jersey that most people out of state have: we are just an extension of New York City with a turnpike running through the center, lined by factories belching smoke.
South Jersey in the 50's and 60's was mostly rural with small towns like Jack's and mine breaking up the stretches of woods and fields and farmland.
We prayed for snow as kids. It brought us new adventures,new ways of having fun and risking our lives. The center of all winter activity in Woodbury Heights was the lake area, extending out to include Freund's cliff and Chestnut Hill. The lake was for ice skating and hockey. Swarms of adults and teenagers gliding along in the glow of streetlights and a fire built on the shore. There were those whose ability on the ice made us watch in awe as the skaters danced in the glow of moonlight. I was one of those awkward types. I could never get my ankles to co-operate, so I spent most of my time on the ice-well, on the ice.
Sledding was a different story. My brother Carl and I and my friend Keith and others braved the tree-lined slopes of Freund's cliff,parts of which had the ominous nickname,"Suicide". We had one Flexible Flyer, but I was insane enough to prefer the metal Sno Disc. You sat in the center of your silver shield, held on to the straps and went down backwards, exposing yourself to bone cracking injuries of every type imaginable. The discs spun as you descended, increasing the likelihood of death or maiming. Once I actually hit full force the entire length of my spine into a sapling tree. For several minutes I thought that I had finally done it; my back was broken. After the shock wore off, I was up and hurling myself down the trail again. My brother had a vinyl coat which he sometimes used to propel himself. He would pull up the cloth collar, lie on his back and go down head first defying the odds. He did eventually break his foot and leg while sitting up dangling his legs over the side of the only real sled we had.
The sane people would use Chestnut Hill. Chestnut Hill was the steepest part of Chestnut Ave., so it was a frozen street that provided a safer sledding experience. Adults were there to supervise and it was a family event for the entire area. We would use Chestnut Hill when it was really icy, but the siren call of "Suicide Hill" and all its inherent danger always drew us back for more.