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My sledding surprise

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It was about a decade ago that our family traveled to Eagan, Minn. – a suburb of Minneapolis – to visit my aunt, uncle and two cousins for Christmas. I was about 14 years old, and I remember cooling my face with a handful of snow to get some relief from the grisly battle I was waging with some stubborn pimples.

Luckily, my oozing face didn’t monopolize all of my attention; when someone suggested that we go sledding, I was in.

During the car ride to The Hill, my younger brother and I listened to our hosts’ alien dialect, clenching our teeth and avoiding eye contact with each other to keep laughter at bay. If you don’t know what a Minnesotan accent sounds like, listen to William H. Macy’s character in Fargo. Then, try to imagine the hired criminals in the movie with the same accent. That’s what our hosts sounded like to us.

It was a crisp winter day, and we Floridians were wimps. My brother and I had layered ourselves so thoroughly that we looked like we were obese. We toddled to the summit of the hill, where we laid down our sleds – glorified garbage-can lids – and surveyed the landscape: a sea of white punctuated by patches of black forest. Fellow sledders, little dots of pink, purple and blue, crunched along through the snow on the hill below us, into the dorky infinity. The hill was fairly steep, but it was covered with a forgivingly thick bed of snow, so I pushed off on my sled, unfazed. I screamed and laughed simultaneously, drool whipping onto the outside of my cheek, which made me laugh even harder; tears blurred my vision.

When I regained my sight, I noticed a small purple jacket with legs and hair standing only 20 feet in front of me. I tried to shout, but the noise I made sounded more like a dog’s bark.

But it was too late: The instant before we made contact, the girl turned toward me – she couldn’t have been older than five – and a millisecond later, she was airborne. But not before her sharp little knee caught my diaphragm. I coasted for another 
hundred feet gasping for air, my manic high a distant memory.

By the time the sled ground to a halt, I had morphed into a teenaged Scrooge, scowling and irritated by the kid who’d ruined my ride. I sat in the snow and simmered in my embarrassment. After I caught my breath, though, I realized she could have been hurt. I decided that I’d better head back to the scene of the accident to see if she was OK and maybe apologize. When I got to the slope, however, there was no sign of the battered little girl. No kids clustering around a purple-clad corpse, no parents tending to a traumatized child, no distant wailing. Nothing.

Either I had spent longer than I thought alone muttering obscenities, or the girl had been vaporized by the collision. For a while after that, I wondered if I was going to have my very own Ghost of Christmas Past to reckon with – an angry little girl ready to castigate me for my selfishness and obvious lack of generous spirit. But it’s been a decade, and she still hasn’t shown up. If she does ever come to haunt me, I can only hope she has an accent like a native Minnesotan. Otherwise, it’d be kind of scary.

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