by Bill Monson


Christmas morning dawned clear and bright with a foot of new-fallen snow sparkling in the sun. I raced down the stairs from my bedroom, my heart pounding.

And there it was!

There was no way to disguise its outline in wrapping paper, so Mom and Dad hadn't bothered. Just a red ribbon and bow tied to the steering bar.

A Flexible Flyer sled.

For months I'd closed my nightly prayers with a request for a new sled. My old one had been broken beyond repair in a bellyflop off the Burlington embankment along Lincoln Street the previous February.

Now, there was my answer, next to the

tree – its blonde, varnished wood and red-painted runners gleaming in the morning sun which slanted through our big livingroom window. There were other presents for me under

the tree – good ones I learned as I unwrapped them – but the Flexible Flyer was the one that mattered.

After the unwrapping, I raced through

breakfast, eager to get outside. Mom made sure I wore cap, warm coat, gloves and

galoshes, then I eased my new steed through the back door and carefully carried it down the porch steps.

The back yard sloped away in shimmering whiteness, with only a few bird tracks to mar the surface. I took a few steps to test the snow; it crunched reassuringly under my

galoshes. I took a deep breath, feeling the cold air bite my lungs. When I exhaled, a big cloud of steam lazily drifted away. It was a great moment to be alive.

Then it was down to work.

I knelt with the sled and slid its still warm runners back and forth through the snow. Then I packed a handful of snow and ran it along each runner until they glistened with ice. Finally, we were ready.

I hoisted the sled and ran down the yard with a joyous cry. When I reached top speed, I flung myself out and down upon the sled – which went nowhere.

I flew off the front and skidded full-length on my belly across the yard. I came to a stop with my face buried in a drift. Unhurt but stunned by this treachery, I sat up. Icy fingers of melting snow trickled down my chest and belly inside my clothes.

I looked back across the yard. The sled sat in the snow, still gleaming blonde and red, but there was less than a foot of track behind each runner.

I muttered what few curses I knew and got up and walked back to it. I picked it up and looked at the runners. Each glistened with a thin coat of ice. Puzzled, I retraced my steps to the top of the slope and tried again. This time I ran harder.

The sled didn't cooperate.

I flew off in a full roll.

Now I was snow-coated front and back.

Well, the Monsons are a determined clan. I went back to the sled and worked it back and forth in the snow a good two-dozen times. It slid freely.

I tried a third run.

This time, I bloodied my nose on the

steering bar.

I held a handful of cold snow on my nostrils and cogitated. Obviously, new sleds did not slide well on new-fallen snow.

Bloodied but unbowed, I went to the front of the house. The sidewalks were still pristine on this Christmas morning, but enough cars had passed on Blaine Avenue so that the snow in the street was packed down.

I tried a tentative little push-slide.

The sled worked.

I tried a bigger run.

The Flexible Flyer finally flew.

I spent the rest of the morning happily sliding on the street. And the sled was to provide countless more hours of enjoyment in years to come. Eventually, it was passed on to my younger sister, then her children. It still resides – rusted and worn – in the basement of the house where I grew up.

But on that sparkling Christmas morning of 1946, it taught me a valuable lesson. Trail-blazers can get their noses bloodied. It's much easier to slide with the Flexible Flyers of our lives on paths well-packed by others who have gone before.