Douglas McIntire

Douglas McIntire

Winter was always a perilous time to be growing up in Brunswick. Between watching my friend Gary get swallowed beneath the ice of Smiley Pond and childhood’s puppy-like lack of grace, it’s a wonder any of us made it at all.

Winter water was a common enemy of childhood — one that enthralled us at the same time. Like a siren song, we were drawn to it in all it’s forms and like the sirens, it was always there, ready to take our lives. Be it an iced over pond, glare-ice sidewalk, collapsed snow fort or even a cube form in the freezer, we loved tempting fate with frozen H2O.

My first liquid assassin was an ice cube I eagerly crunched around in my mouth at around five-years-old. I tried to bite the slippery bit but the cube quickly found my gullet and wedged itself there in an attempt to choke me out — and nearly succeeded at that.

I clearly remember that split second between happily churning the ice around my cheeks and — oh, oh no. I also remember my mother flinging me upside down in our 132 Columbia Avenue home, holding me by my ankles and repeatedly slamming my head and upper torso agains the frame of the front door like she was beating an old rug. The cube eventually clattered to the threshold as I began to fade out of consciousness.

I should have known then to stay away. But still, she called.

There was a short time when I lived on River Road and consequently spent part of my fourth grade year at Hawthorne Elementary. While it looks friendly and inviting on the outside now, back then the “playground” was entirely paved. There was a steel jungle gym behind the school with bars running through the inside presumedly so one could climb both the inside and outer parts of the structure.

Funny thing, steel jungle gyms — they get pretty stinkin’ slippery after a bout of freezing rain or melted runoff from the roof freezes on it. One minute I’m sitting on top of the frozen, metal world, the next I’m bouncing off every bar down the center of the stupid thing like a pinball. That’s the first time I was knocked unconscious on that playground.

The second time, I was doing what most kids do — running inexplicably across the blacktop playground. I really, honestly had no good reason to be running — it’s the kind of energy I really miss now in life, but there I was. I was right about in the spot where that nice piece of equipment in front of the school is — you know, the one currently padded to modern safety standards? Yeah, running and running until in a very Fred Flintstone manner, I saw my feet level with my own head. I woke up seconds later. Everything was red and hazy and sounds came and went in a tin can. School nurse? Bah, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone I went nuh-nites on the playground.

A massive snowfall in 1982 produced mountains of wet, heavy snow alongside the streets in town. Eagerly, Gary and I began to tunnel from Emmanuel Drive inward along the side of the freshly shoveled driveway. We were going to build a whole tunnel system with rooms and escape tunnels and … And that’s when we heard the rumble coming down the street. We had only scraped out about five feet into the snow bank when we looked at each other in horror. That rumble could only mean one thing — the snow plow was coming around for another run.

There was no time to get out as the rumble quickly approached. We pressed ourselves against the frozen back of our besieged fort as the massive side blade of the plow smashed two of the five feet of our Hoth dream home down the street. Sure, we patted each other on the back, high-fived and relived the moment when we crawled back onto the street but we were all done with construction for that winter.

I’m older now — old enough to equate run-and-slide with slip-and-fall; old enough to envision smashed cars when frozen precipitation is in the forecast. The sirens no longer beckon me to my doom. I thought I heard them just last year, when I ventured out onto the skating rink on the mall for a photo — just a whisper and then gone. I allowed myself one good push off and slide on my left foot. There was a moment of freedom — one glimmering moment when I was once again boundless and unencumbered by life. Then some little kid with a hockey stick and a runny nose came out of nowhere, slamming into me and bringing us both back to earth. Somewhere the siren giggled.

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