Winters in North-Central Indiana were rarely mild. Every year, we’d have snow as early as Halloween, and as late as April Fool’s Day. In between, we’d get regular snow fall, with the occasional lake-effect snowstorm blowing in off of Lake Michigan, which would bring a wave of blocked roads, sliding cars….and school cancellations.
Whenever snow was in the forecast, I’d sit by the radio, listening to local WIOU 1350 until late at night to see if schools were canceled. Sometimes, you’d hear the DJ, with an agonized voice, make a plea for people to stop calling the station. At that point, I’d borrow my Dad’s portable AM/FM radio so I could see if WWKI had any better information.
Eventually, I’d drift off to sleep, waking up at 6AM to see if anything had changed. I’d hear the list of churches and businesses that were closed, and suddenly, the magic words I longed for rang out – “Western School Corporation schools are closed.” We’d grab our wood and metal Flexible Flyer sleds and head for the closest hill.
Living in Indiana, hills were few and far between. We’d have to grab our sleds and hike about a mile to a neighborhood with any hills at all. If we went a little further, we could get some bigger slopes closer to Wildcat Creek. Mostly, we’d go for the best combination of slope and surface. pushing our sleds down the middle of the street, …always making sure to have a lookout for cars.
Sometimes, it wasn’t just cars. If the snow was heavy, other dangers were out there. We’d not only have to look out for cars, but listen for the buzzy two-stroke whine of a rapidly approaching snowmobile. More than once, we had to head for the ditch to avoid getting run over by a Yamaha or Ski-Doo.
If we were lucky, a local parent would haul us down to Highland Park, which had the best hills for sledding. Other times, we’d walk the 3 miles, pulling our sleds behind us. Today, I couldn’t imagine going that far for sledding, but back then, we were hardcore.
On a big snow day, Highland Park was packed with sledders with all levels of equipment, from our lowly Flexible Flyers to big, 7 person toboggans. We’d get a flying start, leap onto our sleds, and fly down the biggest hills, each trying to out-do the other. Occasionally, we’d get a little too competitive, and crash into each other going down the hill. Fortunately, I can’t remember anyone getting hurt, but the lack of memory may be due to the multiple concussions.
On a really good run, we’d try to make it all the way to flat part where the park ran down to Wildcat Creek. The maintenance shed had a light on top that would show green if the ice was safe, and red if not. When the light was red, it was a test of nerves to see how close you could get to the creek without bailing out.
While some of the sledders had real waterproof winter ski gear, we had our Sears snorkel jackets, Toughskin jeans and Converse Chuck Taylors that were warm enough when we started out, but after a while, our gloves, jeans and shoes would get wet, necessitating an end to the fun before frostbite set in. One time, my shoes and socks got so soaked, I attempted to skate the 3 miles back home. I still have all my toes, but my feet still remember the experience.
Now today, with everything being done online, snow doesn’t make much of a difference, but back then, a closing announcement would mean a full day of fun and adventure. I still listen to the radio late on a snowy night, wondering if I’ll get a day off.
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