By Earl Brechlin
Illustration by Nadine Gilliland
Easton tugged hard on the rope as he wrestled to get his toboggan to the top of Molehill Mountain. The snow was hard and icy. It had been packed down by dozens of kids, all rushing to get in a few more rides before dark. At the top he laid flat on the thin pad and gave a mighty push.
Bouncing and skidding down the hill, scarf trailing behind in the wind, he hardly noticed the weathered wood skeleton of the old toboggan run that had not been used in years. Once known as the “Blizzard Buster,” the aging relic let sledders shoot down the mountain and out onto the ice of the lake at the bottom, even if there was not any snow. Built for national competition, its owners let children from the community use it when the schedule and conditions allowed.
The 500-foot–long wood chute would be sprayed with water to make it super slippery. A rope tow hauled sleds and kids to the top, saving them from a long, boring, slippery slog to the top.
Toboggans were placed on a long flat launch table in a shed at the top. Once the riders piled on, it was tipped down to start the rocket ride to the bottom.
No day was complete without a stop at old man Pennymoon’s Sno Cone stand at the bottom for a fruity, sugary treat.
Racers gave their sleds names such as Wonderland, Eden and Precious. One year, the final championship race came down to a contest between a bright red sled named Rudolph and a sparkly one named Dancer. Can you guess who won by a nose?
Shuddering to a halt on the patchy snow and mud at the bottom, Easton rolled off his sled, stood up, and brushed off his jacket. “I’m okay,” he yelled. The sun had set, and the orange and purple glow was quickly fading. “I guess that’s enough for today,” said Easton’s dad pointing towards the old pickup truck in the parking lot.
Easton began thinking about the Blizzard Buster on the way home. “Why doesn’t anyone use it anymore?” he asked.
“Well, it just got too expensive to maintain,” dad replied. “The town said it was too much of a liability. People stopped caring.”
“Too bad, too,” dad continued. “It used to be the place to go.”
Later that night, as Easton looked out his window and across the lake, he could see the dark outline of Molehill Mountain. He imagined the Blizzard Buster in its heyday, covered with twinkling lights, kids and toboggans lined up at the top. In his mind, he could hear the swoosh of sleds hurtling down the hill and the squeals of glee from kids happy to have survived the experience.
Walking into the They Went Thata Way Café the next morning, Easton and his dad passed by the big round table in the corner, the one where the usual suspects pop in and out each day for coffee and maybe breakfast. Conversation, of course, involved solving all the world’s problems, both foreign and domestic. The faces at the table have changed over the years, but the air of friendly contention had not budged in decades.
Unlike most days when the conversation centered on politics, sports, or who used to live somewhere, today’s focus was why no one was feeling the Christmas spirit. Times had been hard. Lots of people were out of work. Many had been sick.
The gloomy mood was especially hard on the kids. They sensed their parents’ worries. It seemed like nothing was going right in the world.
“You know those guys with the white hair and beards?” dad asked gesturing toward the round table. “I bet some of them know about the Blizzard Buster.”
“Did somebody say, ‘Blizzard Buster?’” asked Rich, one of the men at the table wearing a blue baseball hat with a Navy ship on it. “Yes, I did,” said Easton. “It kind of looks as old as you.”
As Rich’s face turned red, the other men at the table roared with laughter. Finally, one of them, Norm said, “We all know about the Blizzard Buster. As a matter of fact, me and Mike, and Rob, and Dana over there used to run it back in the day.”
“How long ago was that?” Easton asked. “I won’t say exactly,” Norm said. “But it was way before video games and the Internet.”
“Whoa, that’s ancient,” Easton said to dad as he slid into a booth, his mouth watering at the thought of blueberry pancakes with extra whipped cream. “You know dad,” Easton said from behind a steaming mug of hot cocoa, “we could use something like that today.
Over at the corner table, the men with thinning hair and graying beards continued their banter.
“Too bad about the way they let the Blizzard Buster go to seed,” said Mike. “You know, somebody ought to be fired for letting the place slide like that,” said Rob.
“Easy to complain when you’re not the one responsible,” Kurt said. “When was the last time any of you got off your duffs and did something besides complaining and moaning?”
“He’s got a point there,” Ryan laughed, digging into a plate of scrambled eggs. “Pass the hot sauce.”
“Well,” said Mike. “Maybe it’s about time somebody did something about that.”
Just after dark a few days later, on the night before Christmas Eve, Easton looked out his window towards Molehill Mountain. Low clouds hung over the lake. He could not see the top. Still, from time to time, he swore he could see lights. When the wind shifted just right, sounds, almost like hammers and saws, seemed to waft across the lake. “Probably just my imagination,” Easton thought as he drifted off to sleep. Outside, it began to snow. It looked like it was going to be a white Christmas after all.
The next morning, as dad stopped by the café to get his coffee, the men at the corner table were quiet — all looked tired. Some had bandages on their fingers. “Mornin’ guys,” he said, turning to leave.
“You know, what your boy said the other day got us thinking,” Norm said. “You folks might want to stop by Molehill Mountain tonight just after dark,” he continued. “And tell all your friends and put it on everybody’s social mediocre or whatever you call it,” Rob added.
Noticing the everyone at the table was smiling, dad knew something good was up. “I’ll do just that,” dad said. “Why do I suspect I’ll see you there?”
As dad pulled the old pickup truck into the dark parking lot, Easton strained to see up the side of Molehill Mountain. He had not even noticed his trusty toboggan was in the back. Other trucks and cars began pulling up, too.
The rusty door hinges squeaked as Easton jumped out. “Why are we here?” he asked. Dad just smiled.
“Now?” came a voice from out of the darkness. “Now!” dad shouted.
Easton found himself raising his mittened hands to shield his eyes as the entire side of the mountain blazed with light. There was the Blizzard Buster, aglow with lights, with every board repaired, the chute glistening with a perfect coating of ice. The rope tow to the top was humming smoothly, and there, at the bottom where toboggans slowed to a stop on the frozen lake, was old man Pennymoon’s Sno Cone stand, restored by his grandson who found it in the back of the barn.
“How? Why? Who?” asked Easton. “Well, you can thank those guys over there,” said dad, gesturing towards Mike, Norm, Rob, Dana, Kurt, Rich, and Ryan, gathered at the bottom. “We thought everyone could use a little boost this year,” said Rob. “Nothing a little hard work and elbow grease couldn’t fix.”
“Who wants to be the first one down?” asked Mike.
Placing his toboggan on the launch ramp at the top, a long line of kids behind him, Easton could not wait to go. “Three! Two! One!” he counted down before the table dropped and he accelerated down the hill with a swoosh. Scarf flapping in the wind, sled careering back and forth between the sides of the icy chute, the cares of the world fell far behind. Easton could only think about how having the Blizzard Buster running again had to be the greatest present of all.
“Merry Christmas,” he shouted to the crowd as he got to the bottom of the chute. “Merry Christmas to all!”