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Moments in Time: Sledding on Suicide Hill

“The hill and I had kind of an understanding. I felt that as long as you respected it and didn’t try anything stupid, you had a pretty good chance of making it all the way to the end. I usually did.”  — Janet Costin

Special to the Times

“The hill and I had kind of an understanding. I felt that as long as you respected it and didn’t try anything stupid, you had a pretty good chance of making it all the way to the end. I usually did.” — Janet Costin

Editor's note: This week, the Times continues its new, occasional series called Moments In Time. We're publishing stories from our senior readers that capture treasured memories from a specific part of their lives. These stories typically will have a beginning and an end, deal with vibrant images and include period-piece references. Please submit your entries to brandon@sptimes.com.

Today's submission comes from Janet Costin, a Valrico resident who grew up in Akron, Ohio.

During a recent trip to visit my mother in Akron, I went for a walk in the old neighborhood and there it was.

Suicide Hill.

This giant monstrosity of curves and speed consisted of three pretty decent narrow slopes that began in the back yard of one kid's home and ended up at the curb the next street down. Some parts of the hill were rocky and bordered with trees, but with good maneuvering and steering ability, these obstacles could be avoided.

This was the wintery place where all the neighborhood kids excitedly gathered each Saturday morning, waiting for their chance. No parents, no rules and for some, no brains. Only one thing mattered: who could ride the entire length of the hill without falling off their sled and make their grand finish at the curb, fiercely braking with your black rubber boots.

It really was the only way to stop.

So there we were, a brave group of rosy-cheeked neighborhood kids bundled up from head to toe on a cold winter morning, ready for our moment on the hill's perilous course. We dragged with us our chosen mode of transportation, which could be the traditional sled or one of those newer aluminum discs with the built-in handles.

For others a sled was not necessary. Some kids used a large piece of cardboard to ride, while others wore plastic jackets and just went down the hill on their backs.

The older kids always went first, because they were fearless and also had what we called "hill seniority." We younger kids had a great deal of respect for them and knew that someday we would be first, too. The older kids were going to have the privilege of enjoying the best rides of the day since the hill was in its pristine state of powdery soft snow, making for a cushiony descent.

Later, the snow became packed down from all the riders and the hill became a treacherous sheet of ice and exposed rocks. That's about the time of day we would stand around and see who would go home with torn pants, bloody noses and a few extra lumps on their head.

Usually, the injured group would include my brother Gary, who insisted on riding his sled with a few buddies attached for the extra weight and speed. They would start out fine but then their sled would hit a rock or go off course due to my brother's reckless maneuvering, and the sled and its riders would be airborne.

I think one time someone lost a front tooth. Very few kids actually made it to the end.

Funny, I was never afraid. The hill and I had kind of an understanding. I felt that as long as you respected it and didn't try anything stupid, you had a pretty good chance of making it all the way to the end. I usually did.

For a girl like me, this was a huge deal. Especially in the midst of many boys my age who could not do it. The ride down Suicide Hill felt magical to me. The whistling, freezing wind biting against my face was a small price to pay for my moment of sheer enjoyment and absolute freedom.

I don't think I have ever felt that free again in my entire life.

Seeing the hill now makes me wonder why we all thought it was so scary. The slopes really are much smaller than I remember and the course not nearly as long. Is that because I have gotten older? Maybe. The land where the hill sits is now fenced in, so I'll never get the chance to find out, even at my age. And neither will the new generation of brave sledders, if there are any.

It is my great hope that they put away their cell phones and computers for a day or two and perhaps conquer their own hill. They might discover that the joy and magic of being a kid can be so much more than gazing at an LCD screen.

Moments in Time: Sledding on Suicide Hill 01/06/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 3:30am]

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