Winter had moved along. The skating was about over as warmer weather came in for a day or two at a time and melted the ice on the lakes and ponds.

The snow had covered the ice too deep to be scraped and shoveled off for games of pond hockey. Often there was some rain, and the snow would melt and freeze again and make a snow ice that was not very good. Then there would be another heavy snowstorm, and the skating was over.

What to do? Go coasting.

The streets were plowed, but not to bare pavement. There was always a layer of snow after the plows passed, and the cars running over it soon turned it into a hardened coating, almost ice. Salt on the street was unheard of; drivers were left on their own, and monkey links, individual chains to be put on the rear wheels if a car got stuck, were standard equipment. And the plows left more snow on streets selected for coasting so it would pack down into ice.

The hardened snow on the street was perfect for the sleds with two runners and a steering bar and a flat surface for the coaster to sit -- or lie -- on.

Good coasting took some preparation. A boy would haul his Flexible Flyer out from down cellar or in the garage or barn and get it ready. If a new rope was needed, it would get one. The runners needed attention. They had to be scraped and sanded to get any trace of rust off so they would be as fast as any on the hill. The steering bar was checked. Vying for the fastest sled was as competitive as trying to hit the longest ball on the baseball field.


The city's or town's contribution to winter consisted of putting sawhorses at the top and bottom of selected streets with the best slopes to bar traffic so the kids would have the streets to themselves. The boys and girls would assemble at the top of the hill, and the fun would begin.

A boy would go "bellybumps," lying flat on the sled, his knees bent upward, his feet in the air. He would hold his sled with his two hands, run to get a good start, then as the pitch of the street began, slam the sled down on the icy surface and fall on top of it, his hands gripping the steering bar. And he was off on his ride.

Down he would go, the slim runners biting the snow, the sound a harsh roar, the air lacerating his face. Faster the sled would go, and faster still, the world fading behind, the speed greater than any speed before, a new world opening as the sled tore down the hill. There was nothing else, only the speeding sled and the sound of the runners on the ice and the boy alone gripping the steering bar fleeing the world he was part of.

The speed increased, the exhilaration heightened, until the lad knew that it would never end, that he would speed through eternity, faster and faster and ever faster, a lone figure free and triumphant and immortal.

But it did end, as the sled ran into the long sretch of sand spread at the bottom of the hill to stop the coasters from sliding onto the cross street where the traffic passed. The ride was over, but there would be more, and the boy joined others who had sped down the hill and run onto the sand and began the walk back to the top of the hill in a babbling, laughing, boasting gang of adventurers, each noisily asserting that his sled was the fastest on the hill.

The girls went "sitsies," sitting demurely on the sled, feet on the steering bar, hands holding on to the side of the sled. Their speed did not match that of the boys, but they felt the same excitement and daring as they sped down the hill. "Sitsies" was for girls alone, and any boy who sat on his sled was immediately branded a sissie.

So it went through the after-school part of the day, until suppertime, and then well into the evening, ride after ride, walk back to the top after walk, as the neighborhood kids gathered and talked and argued and boasted and ridiculed one another and had fun.

Coasting is different now. It is on hillsides, on toboggans or over-sized inner tubes, on soft snow, and without much ability to steer. It's fun enough, but it does not have the speed, the thrill and excitement -- and danger -- of the old-style coasting on ice-coated streets. Coasting as it once was is in the past now, an activity of a simpler time when kids did things for themselves, with no adults coaching and goading and scolding. 

It is only in memory now, a memory softened by time, and the memory is a good one.

Bob Reed, 93, is a former editorial writer at The Sun. He can be reached at