Winter, when I was a kid, meant sliding. Not the kind of sliding people tried to avoid when in cars or on foot during the cold and snowy Minnesota winters, but sliding downhill on a sled, or a toboggan, or maybe a piece of cardboard or a garbage can lid.
Our house was located at 3642 Sixth Street; that block was on one of the highest hills in North Minneapolis. From the backyard one could see the power plant over Nordeast, and hear its whistle blow at lunch time. It was half a mile to the Mississippi River, and there were vacant lots on most of those city blocks, and a strip of truck farms across Washington Avenue.
My grandparents lived within two blocks of us on Fourth Street. Several empty lots were around Grandma and Grandpa Hoem’s house at 3723 Fourth Street, where sliding took place. Grandpa kept a meticulous lawn in the summer, and we were careful not to intrude on it in the winter. Mrs. Dolander lived two lots north, and we also couldn’t intrude on her land. The rest of the hill was a sliding paradise.
Cold weather wasn’t a problem, mother would make sure I was dressed properly. I’d wear long underwear, corduroy pants, ski pants, a heavy jacket, a flannel shirt, socks, shoes, and wool boot socks over the shoes. Then fourbuckle rubber overshoes, securely buckled over the pants. A scarf would be tied around my neck and over my mouth. Then would come a leather or wool cap with earlaps and a strap under the chin. I wore mittens knit by Grandma. I was ready to go.
My sled was in a snowbank by the back door, and my dog was waiting. I’d step out, grab the rope on my sled, and head down the unpaved alley to 37th Avenue and the path to my winter haven.
The path led behind to Poop Stevenson’s place. Poop got his nickname from a high school chemistry class; Dad said his experiments had offensive results. Rumor had it that continuing experiments in his dad’s house were interrupted by police. He had been making scotch and bourbon and that didn’t sit well with the officials.
Beyond Poop’s place was a series of empty lots going down the Sixth Street hill where the Sixth Street Gang reigned. They had a slide iced up that was too treacherous for grade schoolers. We had plenty of space on the Fourth Street side for our tamer escapades.
Just over the crest of the hill where asparagus grew in the summer, was the main slide. Midway down the hill was a tree root that could bounce one off a sled. The track led all the way to Grandma’s back yard, far from the meticulous lawn.
Another track led down the hill towards Grandpa Johnson’s store. To avoid the street we would turn onto the Hoem sidewalk and scrape to a halt. Fourth Street usually had cinders spread on it and we didn’t want to slide onto them.
We— a bunch of kids from 34th to 39th—would slide and make snow forts and throw snowballs and watch dogfights until we were exhausted.
Only to repeat it all tomorrow.