King’s Hill by Judith Ann Moriarty – the Storyteller

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Every town has one, or should I say every town worth its salt has one. I’m talking hills here. Hills for belly slamming down. Hills with thrills. It needn’t be a huge hill, just enough of a hill to get your blood pumping and your heart thumping. Pity the kids who live in the flatlands. They’ll never know the thrill of it all. Until a few years ago, there was a great hill behind Shopko and a bit to the northwest.

Kids were drawn to it after a solid snowstorm. Sleds zoomed. Parents too aboard, but hear tell the fun ceased for whatever reason. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. I’ve brought some corn for popping. In so many ways, it’s kids that define fun. If it was a liability issue for the city, more’s the pity. What could possibly go wrong on a sled?

My town, which I often refer to as Smalltown, USA, had one such hill. Known as King’s, it was the winter destination for kids with sleds. No adults allowed. We were free to break our necks without adult supervision. Parents back then were likely pleased to get rid of us, if only for a bit. In the summer mom used to shout at the four of us Moriarty kids… “don’t come home until the street lights go on, and don’t slam the door behind you.”

But this was winter, so on went our clumsy wool snowsuits, our rubber boots, our hand knit mittens and hats and off we went to join others in the thrill of King’s Hill. We shared one sled, we four out the door, slamming it behind us.

So here I am at the top of King’s ready for my debut ride down the rise which ends a few blocks away in a swampy area known as Frog Holler. I never saw a frog there. It was a dead-end run; pretty safe come to think of it. Yeah right. Okay, get ready get set go…

Whoa. Should I ride sitting down, backwards to show off, standing like Superwoman, or should I go belly down and damn the torpedoes. Was my first beau watching? Was my nose running? Are my braids askew?

We’re off. The wind whistles, a light snow brushes my chapped cheeks. The sled knows the way I imagine. There it is dead ahead, Frog Holler, the end game of this sled game to end all sled games.

Watch out. The town bully is on the Hill tonight, eyes gleaming. His sled is bigger than mine. But mine is faster because dad sharpened the runners only yesterday. ”And remember Judy,” he said wagging his finger, “Don’t try to be funny by sticking your tongue out to see if it will stick to the runner, because it will.” He was the town doc and had lots of experience removing wayward tongues from sled runners.

I never caved in and tried the tongue thing, but I had friends who lived with a sore tongue for weeks after having it pried from a sled runner. Perhaps it was a rite of passage, and I recall it was mostly a guy thing.

Oh the memory of boots squeaking crunch, crunch on a winter night cold enough to take our breath away. Under the stars, up there near Orion and the Dipper, I remember wondering what lay beyond, but I didn’t wonder for long, after all, ahead was the whole world of adventure in Smalltown and I had yet to float on my back in the summertime Nodaway River, or get my first job removing tassels from rows of corn that lined the fields rimming my town.

I had yet to eat a Shmoo bar, inspired by Al Capp’s Li’l Abner Sunday funnies. I had yet to live. Nor did I understand that much of Life is a belly slam down King’s Hill. xxxooo

Photo courtesy the Washington County Historical Society

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