I have a cousin that is more brother than cousin. He's just a bit younger than me, but we've been close our whole lives. I miss this guy more than I can describe, and he's one of the few reasons I'd ever move back to where I grew up.
He's still there.
Winters in Cleveland have always been chaotic, as far back as I can remember you just had the craziest weather during the winter. It might hit 70 degrees in January, but then be -10 three weeks later.
Growing up, sledding was a love/hate thing. We lived in a neighborhood that was about a mile away from the nearest decent sledding hills. We'd get bundled up, grab our sleds (which we'd learned from experiences the best ones were the big red plastic saucers, because they were light, so easy to carry, and the added thrill of having no control when sailing down a frozen hill) and hike to the hills, often in frigid, windy weather. We'd stay too long, get too cold, and then have to hike the mile back to our houses.
Sledding was fun, freezing wasn't.
Once, in our late teens, we'd been hanging out and went to a little takeout BBQ place on Clark Ave. that sold one thing, rib dinners. You had a choice of sauces, normal, medium, or hot. My cousin and I had some unspoken.. I don't even know what to call it, but anytime a 'hot' option was available, we selected it. I think we did this to maintain some expected level of readiness. We could handle hot food, so, we'd be ready..
Fire strengthens steel.
We picked the hot sauce, and then went and collected up our old, battered red saucers and drove off into the night into a neighboring town that had a good sledding hill. When we arrived, a burn barrel had a fire going, but everyone had left for the night. Just my cousin, two rib dinners, a fire in a 55-gallon drum, and me. As we met the challenge of the sauce that was hotter than either of us would have picked, if we would have ordered on our own, I remember sweating and the weather outside was below zero.
We finished and grabbed the saucers. The two of us laughed like little kids going up and down that hill that we had to ourselves, and would occasionally warm up by the fire. We were freezing, hands and feet numb from the cold and eventually we'd had enough, and that in itself was another of our unspoken agreements: neither of us would ever suggest we'd had enough, or that it was too cold, or too hot, or too far, or too whatever.
We pushed each other, without knowing it, we just didn't want to be the one that broke first. I learned a lot about limits from my cousin.
We sat in the car with the heater warming us up, waiting on the inevitable pain that would begin in our fingers or toes or both. It snowed and that fire kept burning in the barrel.
I remember it was a fun time, and didn't think much more about it. But all of this came back to me yesterday. I sat here and smiled. That was very likely the last time I've ever gone sledding, I hope it was because that memory is a good one. If the last time I ever went down a frozen hill on a frigid Cleveland day or night was with my brother, who was just as stubborn as I've ever been... That would be perfect.
I've gotta call him and see if he remembers this.