Blinding white with sparkling snow, Triplet’s Hill towered above my small, six-year-old pudgy body. The sun shone dull and cold through winter’s steely clouds. Crisp, cold air wisped through the hill’s bare, frozen trees, instigating persistent cracks in a predominantly silent world. Triplet’s Hill was the first hill of my childhood; one to conquer and gain confidence by.
My red, baby-fatted cheeks blew breath in silent, puffy clouds. I was clad in perfect sleigh-riding apparel: layers upon layers of clothing buried beneath my fuzzy, royal-blue hooded Christmas coat with white snowflake design. Kelly, one year my senior, seemed wiser and was the natural boss of our friendship. I met her offer of “Let’s go sleigh-riding on Triplet’s Hill” by swallowing my fear and embarking.
Triplet’s Hill loomed behind Kelly’s large, white, green-roofed country home (a former schoolhouse). To get to Kelly’s house, my small, white fuzz-topped vinyl boots trudged across the icy, clackety wooden bridge, over the frozen creek, and up the snow-covered dirt driveway. Kelly, also donned in puffy layers, waited for me by the white cement tool shed beside her home.
On the ground our “sleigh” waited – an old-white GE refrigerator door. Its deeply dented side covered with Southern States faded-yellow feed bags provided seating for two to three riders. We gazed at the small mountain for a moment, locking the view unconsciously into memory. Kelly asked, “Are you ready?” Although unsure, I replied “yes” in my quiet, lisping voice. We slid the heavy refrigerator top under the barbed wire fence separating Kelly’s yard from the foot of Triplet’s Hill. Kelly crossed over the wire and then pushed it down for me to cross. The wire stuck on my pant leg for a moment and I pulled it off.
We followed the tractor-plowed, snow-covered, dirt roadway leading diagonally leftward across the hill. At the road’s end, a circle of snow-covered pines embraced the one-level dirty-white house belonging to Mr. Triplet. Kelly knocked loudly on the dirty-white wood door with her small, beige wool-gloved hands. Slowly the door opened to reveal Mr. Triplet, a stocky middle-aged man whose grayish-white hair peeked out from a plain, dirty navy-blue baseball cap. Like his twin brother, he was more known by his wave than his words. But he gave the go-ahead for us to tackle the hill.
We crunched through knee-deep levels of ice and powdery snow, often pulling each other along until we finally reached the top of Triplet’s Hill, exhausted. A breathtaking winter wonderland of snow-drowned Blue Ridge Mountains formed the horizon beyond miles of Valley shimmering countryside. And a figure was climbing the hill to greet us.
Kelly’s father Roger was a large, kind-eyed man with dark hair, moustache, and beard. He was hard-worked, but always had a smile to share.
“How are you doing there, lil’ Lissy?” he asked in Northern Virginian drawl.
He patted me on the back with his large, hairy hand and grinned as I replied, “Fine.”
“Let me break the path for you, girls,” he said, proceeding to lie stomach-first on the refrigerator top. After five minutes of pushing and plowing through the ice and snow, he proclaimed “You’re all set,” and returned the sleigh to us.
Kelly and I spent the rest of the day sledding down the path set for us. The snow would swish past us, around us, and into our faces as we picked up speed going down the hill. Toward the end of the path was “the hump” – where the land dropped off slightly and often sent the sled airborne and crashing off the path into a snowbank. Stoked with momentum, we continued the cycle of swiftly sliding down the hill and monotonously trudging back up until sunset, when we heard a loud chiming from Kelly’s house.
“That’s the dinner bell. I’ve got to go. Do you wanna do this again tomorrow?” she asked, in a tired, but happily satisfied voice.
The remaining bits of orange sunrays, which lit up the tiny bit of sky above the mountain horizon, reflected off our cold, wet faces. Our long hair was wet and stringy; our clothes were damp; our bodies were bruised and chilled to the bone.
“Yeah, let’s do it again,” I said.
Today Triplet’s hill looms lonelier, with a skeleton of blackened beams hinting at the home Mr. Triplet occupied before being destroyed by a “wire” fire. Many families departed from the area with migrations of life and death. Sadly, sleigh riding has declined in the electronic era.
Those days remain deep in my heart. Men like Mr. Fitzgerald innately knew fatherhood begins with setting a path – one even I as a neighbor was welcome to jump on and follow. And because of his influence, I have been able to conquer many of life’s hills.