I loved winter when I was a kid. I hate it now because I’m old and one of the signs you’re getting old is when cold weather turns you into a troll, but I loved winter when I was a kid. It meant hot chocolate, late night movies on the weekends (eating buckets of popcorn, warming our feet under the radiator next to the tv in the living room), snow days off school, and sledding down the many hills in our neighborhood. I grew up in Greenhills, a suburb of Cincinnati, and you KNOW we did a lot of sledding because we had the word “hills” right there in the name.

The best place to go sledding in Greenhills was behind the high school. There was a monstrous hill just behind the library that went down for what seemed like a few stories, flattened out across the soccer field, and dropped off into the woods on the other side. All the kids showed up there at the first hint of snow, waiting for just enough coverage to make it down without pulling up clumps of sod and rolling.

By mid-January the hill had a nice, protective armor of ice and snow, shined to a perfect smoothness by the relentless barrage of the neighborhood kids and their many trips down. The goal was to attack the hill with enough speed to send you flying across the soccer field and off the edge of the field, into the woods. We had no idea what would happen if we actually accomplished this, but everyone there knew it would be “totally cool” if we did.

One year, we got a huge snowstorm, one of those blizzards that dumps several feet worth of snow in just a few hours. Everyone in the neighborhood gathered at the high school the following morning to take advantage of this gift. Rather that slide down the hill like normal, we brought shovels and, instead, spent three days building a snow track with high edges leading straight down the hill and across the field. It was like a rudimentary luge ramp, only perfectly straight and made entirely out of snow. With this, we said, we couldn’t accidentally dart sideways. With this, we said, we can make it all the way to the woods.

Once we had it built, Matt Kemper from Cromwell road got the bright idea to smooth it out with our sleds and douse the whole course with water just before nightfall.

The next morning, Adam Hester, a tall third grader from Damon Road, stood atop the hill, waiting for the right moment. He set his bright orange sled at the top of the ramp, stood back about ten yards, and took a running start. He leapt through the air and hit the sled, which took off like a bullet, leaving a cloud of slow and ice in his wake. It was like watching the Roadrunner speeding away from Wile E. Coyote. The only difference was this was real life, and a few short seconds into Adam’s trip, we all knew this would end badly.

He flew across the soccer field, hurtling toward the edge of the field leading to the drop-offs into the woods and he never slowed down. “It was the water that did the trick,” Matt Kemper said later, with a mixture of pride and horror. “I thought of that.”

Adam hit the drop-off at full speed, rose into the air a few feet like the General Lee in the Dukes of Hazzard, then dropped into the woods and out of sight. We heard a few crashes, then a brief silence, and then a loud wail that signified Adam had landed somewhere below, likely in an uncomfortable position.

It took us a good hour to get Adam back up the hill. Several kids had gone to get his parents by then and an ambulance had arrived to take him to the hospital. Adam’s parents gave us stern looks and admonishments to “be more careful” and lectures that we should “act like men, not boys” and promises that they would “call all your parents just as soon as we get home.”

Then they got in their car, leaving the rest of us in silence to ponder what we had done. In the coming weeks, we would learn that Adam had broken an arm, his leg, his collarbone, and two bones in his left foot. He had suffered a concussion and a laceration across his back so deep they wondered about the kind of scar it would leave. He was on crutches for several months and was unable to play baseball the following spring. Later, we would learn an important lesson about the need to plan carefully and always pay attention to the dangers that lay waiting for us just over the next ridge.

But all of that was later. That day, standing in the snow by ourselves, we did the only thing you can expect of young boys with a pile of snow, an abundance of time, and several new sleds.

We said, “That was cool. I’m next!”

Gravity Is A Cruel Mistress, And Other Lessons I Learned Falling Down The Steps To My Basement

Gravity is a cruel mistress. She tempts. She teases. She torments.

I learned my lesson earlier this year when I was on my way to the basement to do some laundry. I got halfway down the steps, stuck my foot where I thought the next step would be. The only problem was it wasn’t there. I missed, and that’s when Gravity reached out from the depths with her icy hand and pulled me to the ground below. My knee when CRUNCH. I went “AHHH” and I hit the floor hard, like a sack of wet meat.

At the hospital, they said I tore my patella tendon, which is what holds your kneecap in place and let’s you do fun stuff like stand and walk and kick things. I had surgery followed by several months in the torture chamber known as “Physical Therapy” and, even though I’m still limping, I’m finally on the mend

It’s been a long road, and I learned three lessons along the way that have helped me get through. They might help you, too, should you find yourself on the wrong end of Gravity’s good graces.

Lesson #1: There are 256 divets in the ceiling above the couch in my living room.  I know. I counted each and every one of them … many…many times.

Everything slows down after an injury. I knew that. But I wasn’t prepared for just how slow things can be. Just getting out of bed was an ordeal. And showering? Lord have mercy! You can’t just get in and get out. You have to find a way to maneuver over the lip of the tub without falling, which is especially difficult when you’re naked and dripping wet.

I’m sorry for the image of me that leaves in your heads, but it had to be done.

There’s a process for everything: getting up the steps, getting into a car, sitting down to eat, using the bathroom. It’s exhausting. Sometimes it’s easier to just lie on the couch and count the divets.

But if you hang in there long enough, eventually it gets better. The crutches go away you think, “Yes! I can do all the things I used to do!”

Which leads us right into lesson #2: You can’t.

You might think you can finally get back to normal life, but you can’t. Not yet, anyway. Here’s what I’m talking about…

I was late for work, and I couldn’t find my keys. My wife had already left, so I was stuck. Then I remembered the bus stop down the street.

“It’s only a half mile,” I thought. “I can walk that, right?”

No. I couldn’t. I got just a few blocks away and I was stumbling along, drenched in sweat, waving at passing cars like it was Mardi Gras in New Orleans and I was on the main float. I got to where I could see the bus stop when I hear a familiar “woop wop”   behind me.

Uh oh. The police.

“Was I speeding, officer?”

“We had complaints of a disturbed man wandering down this street,” he says.

“Well I saw this one guy in a speedo running the other way not too long ago and … OH you’re talking about me, aren’t you?”

“Uh huh,” he says with his arms crossed in front of him. “Sir, I’m going to need you to walk this straight line.”

I put my arms out like I’m walking a tightrope and stumble along the imaginary line the police officer drew in front of me.

“You don’t understand,” I tell him. “I fell down the steps, ripped my patella tendon. I had knee surgery so I just LOOK like I’m drunk.”

“Uh huh,” he says, writing something in his notebook. “Sir, please touch your fingers to your nose.”

I alternate hands, touching  my nose perfectly.

“I’m only out walking ‘cause I lost my keys,” I tell him. “I have a meeting at work and I’m late, so I was in a hurry.” I lean over to look the police officer in the eye.

“You know how that goes, right officer?” When I lean back, I accidentally hit myself in the face with my own hand. My eyes start to water.

“Uh huh,” he says, opening the door to his car. “Sir. I’m going to need to you to come with me.”

“Wait wait wait! I can prove it! I have a scar on my leg! Look!”

I start to remove my pants and get them halfway to my knees with it finally occurs to me that if I’m trying to convince this man I’m not drunk or mentally distubed, disrobing in public is not the best way to accomplish my goal. I crumble.

“I’m sorry, officer. It’s been a horrible day and I have this meeting and I lost my keys and my knee is killing me …. And … I’m going to jail, aren’t I?”

“Patella tendon, huh? I tore mine last year playing basketball.”

“Oh thank God!” I said. “Not that you hurt your knee… I mean..”

“It’s fine. I’ll give you a ride … And sir?


“ Please keep your pants on.”

Lesson #2: If you think you can… you can’t. Remember that.

Lesson #3:  Just like your knees, Pride goeth before a fall  

We were building backyard playset for the kids. They delivered the lumber and I was in the process of moving it into the garage nice and slow so I didn’t hurt myself. I was proud of myself for this; too proud, in fact; Which is why, when my wife came out to help, I said something very stupid.

“Look, honey,” I said. “I’m taking it easy so I won’t fall and hurt myself again.”

I hadn’t even got the words out of my mouth before I stepped on an odd patch of grass, fell, and hurt myself again. And that’s how, three months past surgery, instead of cruising into recovery, I found myself right back at lesson #1, lying on the couch, counting divots.

When suddenly I felt a tug on my jeans. It was my six month old. Micaiah. He put both hands on my leg, pulled himself up to a standing position, and grinned.

I wasn’t home when our oldest started walking. I missed his first steps and his first words. But this time I got to see it. This time I was part of the story. And I would have missed it if I hadn’t fallen down the stairs.

The truth is we all slow down. Whether you hurt yourself or just get old, eventually you’ll look at the things you used to do and to say “I can’t. Not anymore.” When this happens, you have a choice. You can rant and rave and say stupid things or you can give up your pride and accept the good things right in front of you.

We all slow down. It’s HOW you slow down that makes the difference. It’s small, sure, but it’s big enough for me and I intend to make the most of it. I hope you do, too.

One last lesson, though. The next time you’re doing laundry, take it from me. Watch where you’re going, okay?