I told my son, Let’s go sledding. He looked up from his video game
like he didn’t want to.
Come on, I said, it’ll be fun.
The game bleeped off and he got up without saying anything. I grabbed
our parkas and gloves from the closet and a cord that was on the hat shelf.
We went into the mud room to put our boots on, then out the door.
The brightness of the morning was blinding. We rubbed our eyes against
it and tramped across the snowy meadow. Our feet made deep holes and crunching
sounds that did not carry. The hill we hiked to lay between a partially
frozen stream and the end of a pine forest. The running water, what there
was of it, seemed extra black.
Halfway up the hill my son slowed his pace, stopped to rest. I saw his
breath pluming thickly and asked, as if I didn’t know, what the matter
He shivered and said, I’m tired, and cold.
Zip your coat.
I want to go back inside.
I held up the cord. There’s no sledding inside, I told him, and resumed
climbing. He followed, trudging.
When we reached the top I saw that his coat was wide open. I zipped
it for him, and even buttoned the collar.
There, I said.
He grimaced, lifted his chin this way and that.
Ignoring him, I looped the cord behind me and around each of my shoulders,
tied it over my chest. Then I knelt, flattened myself out, felt a chill
spread across my stomach.
Just sit down and be quiet.
He complied, got on me holding the cord.
Tell me when you’re ready, I said, and glanced around. A high wind was
swaying the pines, their frosted boughs. Powder flew up from random cascades
to expose patches of wet greenery. The crooked line of the stream stood
out like a crack in a porcelain plate, and I could hear the faintest burbling.
Two sets of tracks punctuated the middle of the meadow. I noticed my
son’s tracks were smaller than mine, and more ragged. Looking at them,
as they diverged here and there, made me lonely. I thought of him growing
up, that he was twelve, almost thirteen—next year he might not sled with
me at all.
I though of my father, too. He had had a tough childhood, full of hunger
and tattered clothing and no toys. He was dead now, a while now, but he
had been a good father, and I remembered him often, especially when my
son and I were together.
When I was a boy, I said, trying in vain not to sound corny, my dad
wouldn’t have to drag me out of the house to play in the snow.
He adjusted his position and snorted at me. I wanted to tell him about
my dad, about how poor he was as a kid, how he used to sled with his—
Okay, he said. I’m ready.
Great, I replied, still remembering my dad. Hang on.
Digging in with my toes, I inched us forward. We began to tip, to slide.
I put my gloved hands in front of me. The white spray that fanned up around
my face gave off a crisp, clean scent. We picked up speed and the fan rose
higher, so that I couldn’t see anything except the tops of the trees jittering
on one side.
We veered right and my son said, Uh-oh.
Pull your cord to the left, I told him. But he pulled it right and we
veered more sharply, started skidding. Your other left! I shouted, and
tried to compensate by leaning my body into the skid.
Oh no! he squealed.
We were heading into a roll, about to flip. I was worried that, if I
fell on him, I might…
Suddenly, I felt the tension in the cord shift, and heard my son’s joyous
voice: I got it!
We regained our balance, and our course stabilized, straightened out.
Nice save! I yelled. Very nice!
Our momentum returned, increased by degrees. We hit a few divots that
jolted us, and my knee glanced off a rock, but otherwise the rest of the
was smooth and fast, and when we turned out at the bottom, my son jumped
off into a drift. He thrashed around in it and laughed.
We struggled to our feet. He packed a snowball, tossed it at me. I ducked
and he walked over.
That was a close call, I said. We almost spilled.
Yeah, he replied. We’ll try harder next time.
I asked, Next time?
Yeah, he said. Let’s take another run.
I grinned at him and we climbed the hill again. He did not pause once,
or complain of being cold. And when we came down on our second run his
steering was true, so our speed was better—towards the end we must have
been doing almost 30 miles per hour.
By noon we were soaked through and weary, done for the day. I untied
and removed the cord from my shoulders. Winding it around my thumb and
elbow, I had a last look at the hill, at the crisscrossing channels we’d
carved, the places where the snow thinned, where the dirt showed, the tufts
of pale grass.
Thanks for sledding with me, I said, slipping the cord into my pocket.
He replied, without missing a beat, You’re welcome, and led us back
across the meadow to the house. Neither of us had the energy to talk along
the way, or the need. I thought of saying something about my dad at one
point, about how this tradition began, but decided to hold my tongue—my
son had heard the story many times.