Our house was at the bottom of a hill in Beechview, which -- like many neighborhoods in and around Pittsburgh -- had its share of very steep streets.
I lived on Belasco Street, which consisted of five or six blocks of up-and-down terrain. When we had at least 5 or 6 inches of snow, Belasco was impossible to travel on.
It was a bonanza for all of the local children when no cars traveled on Belasco due to snow, because it became a prime location for sled riding.
Our house, like most homes in the 1950s, was equipped with a coal furnace. That was important, because I and other neighborhood kids had to retrieve ashes from our coal furnaces as a vital preparation for sledding.
Belasco was such a steep hill that the ashes had to be spread at the bottom to slow or stop the speeding sleds. If these ashes weren't spread you would face a 25-to-30-foot drop to another street below the hill. Nobody I know ever fell down to this other street, but I imagine if someone did they would be seriously hurt or even killed.
Occasionally, some of the fathers would participate in these sled-riding parties. One of my friends, Joey Schratz, would always sled with us, and his father would join us every once in a while. I addressed Mr. Schratz as Mr. Schratz, but Mrs. Schratz was known to everyone as Alice. She told us she wanted to be one of the boys, so Alice it was.
This one Friday night we were bored with just riding down the hill individually. We decided to tie three sleds together and see what happened. The Schratzes' home was at the top of the hill, right where we began our descent. After tying the sleds together, we were ready to go.
Just then Mr. Schratz and Alice came running out of their house, yelling, "Hold up, we want to go down with you guys!" A couple of us talked it over and decided Mr. Schratz was OK, but we didn't want a girl going down the hill with us, especially a girl who was an old lady -- Alice must have been at least 30 at the time.
We mentioned this to Mr. Schratz, who in turn must have told Alice. Alice told us that she used to sled ride all the time when she was younger. We talked it over again with Mr. Schratz and agreed we would let Alice come along. Mr. Schratz would ride in the front sled, then me, then Joey, and then we got a little sled for Alice, which we tied to the third sled.
We were ready. We started down the hill. Everyone was yelling, and Alice was screaming bloody murder. As we approached the ashes we always held on because it was usually an abrupt stop. Everyone held on this time except Alice. I guess we failed to tell her about holding onto the sled when hitting the ashes.
When her sled did hit the ashes she went flying through the air, still screaming, but more intense now. She landed in a big dead jagger bush, which slowed her descent. We all ran over to her. She had a few scratches on her face but otherwise seemed to be OK.
Mr. Schratz was a somewhat quiet man who never showed too much of a sense of humor. When he realized that Alice was just shaken up, he said to her, "Alice, I'm really a little mad at you."
She said, "Why, John?"
"I saw you flying through the air," he replied, "and you didn't even stop to say hello." That's the first time I ever heard Alice swear; in fact, she swore at Mr. Schratz all the way up the hill.
That was the last time the Schratzes ever went sledding with us. At least I found out Mr. Schratz's name was John.
I know this seems like a lot of writing to get to the "Alice flying through the air" part, but it was an unforgettable night. I can just see her sailing over my head.
It's like those commercials you see on TV -- priceless, because it was truly priceless.
Ed Folino of Mount Washington, a retired telephone equipment installer, can be reached at email@example.comThe PG Portfolio welcomes "Storytelling" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to firstname.lastname@example.org; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255. First Published March 20, 2013 4:00 AM