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I knew things were about to get bad on Christmas morning when the first thing to greet my eyes as I stumbled into the living room to join the family was a huge toboggan standing against the wall behind the gaily decorated tree.

I was only thirteen, but wise enough in the ways of the world to know a toboggan that big wasn’t a gift to one of us. No, it was a “family” gift, which meant we were all in for it.

Now I wasn’t opposed to sledding at all, although at my “advanced” age I’d moved on to preferring ice skating, even though it meant a two-mile hike to the river through mown cornfields and sometimes deep snow. But the idea of six of us (four kids and the parents) being directed to get on that thing all together struck me as not the best way to spend my winter weekends. Little did I know.

We had a hill out behind the house. It wasn’t a huge hill, but it was enough for this venture. I tried to beg off as I was sicker than a dog with something approaching pneumonia, but no arguments were allowed. Get dressed, we’re going and we’re going to have fun.

So we got dressed, and headed across the back yard with the new toboggan and looked down our new sled run. My mother said, rather tentatively, “Gil, there’s a huge tree at the bottom.”

This did not deter Kamikaze Dad. “It’ll be fine. When I yell ‘hit it’, everyone roll off the sled.”

Well, of course we couldn’t simply slide down the hill. The snow was deep, the run totally unprepared for the activity. So we spent some time in line on the toboggan learning things reminiscent of the crews that addisnana wrote about in “Catching A Crab.” All sets of feet had to move in synchrony rocking the sled back and forth until we started downward. Then all sets of feet had to be yanked up onto the sled quickly to avoid accidental amputation.

My mother, in her wisdom, wrapped herself tightly around my 5 year old brother, not at all sure he would get the “hit it” part correctly.

At last we sailed down the hill. Seconds later came “Hit it!” and we all rolled off. Since none of us had been able to see anything but the back of the person in front, it proved amusing. We were nowhere near the infamous tree, and my Dad’s glasses were so packed with snow he never would have seen it anyway.

But more than my Dad’s glasses were packed with snow. It was up the sleeves of our jackets, up the legs of our snowpants, and even inside our hoods and hats. Whee!

However, the more we went down the hill, the faster we went as the snow packed for us. My mother’s nervousness became palpable. She mentioned the tree again.

None of this deterred Dad until the last run when he yelled “hit it,” and we all rolled off. Unfortunately, Dad met the tree.

He was okay, but Mom’s fussing about my little brother being a snowman inside his snowsuit put an end to the day. In fact, we never tobogganed again. That sled remained in the garage until I was in my senior year of high school and dusted it off to go sledding with some friends.

I’ll never know what changed my dad’s mind about this family activity, whether it was the fact that in the end he’d hit the tree himself and probably sported some bruises, or if it was a very real concern that it wasn’t safe to sled there. He’d also missed another obstacle: there was a ditch under that snow that stopped us as abruptly as any tree.

Or maybe it just wasn’t as much fun as he’d hoped. High expectations can lead to a lot of disappointment.

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