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Red Racer


GR Oliver

It snowed hard that night. I had been sent to bed, but stayed up and watched the snow coming down. Christmas carols were playing on the radio console in the living room, and Grandpa was decorating the tree and singing off key. Grandma was making goodies in the kitchen for the holidays. I could smell the cookies baking in the oven, all the way down to my bedroom. Mom had gone to California to be with Dad before he was shipped out to Hawaii. My father was in the Navy and going to his new battle station at Pearl Harbor. That winter was the first Christmas I spent with my Grandma and Grandpa.

It was late, and all I could think about was tomorrow, sledding, and having fun. I looked out the window and reminisced, and watched the falling snow. I missed Dad. I didn’t know when I would see him next. Mom would be home after Christmas.

I watched the snow float down in big puffy white balls. It fascinated me. They reminded me of cotton balls my mother used to put makeup on her legs with, so it looked like she was wearing silk stockings. She also would draw a line down the back of her legs, sometimes crooked and sometimes straight, so that they would look more real. I thought that was funny, making your legs look like you were wearing stockings. But then, this was the winter of ‘40, and you couldn’t get silk stockings.

We lived on the south side of Chicago. We had just moved into a new apartment house that they called the Projects. I felt lucky because most of my pals still lived in old apartments down in the Loop. Our apartment was so new you could smell the paint on the walls. Even today, when I open a can of turpentine, and smell that odor, it brings me back to those days when I was a kid.

When we moved into our new apartment, the first person I met at the playground was Howy. I thought he was so keen and grownup. He was wearing his cowboy suit—all decked out in chaps, vest, boots, hat, and toting a new shiny cap pistol holstered at his side. I wanted the same thing on my birthday, but all I got was a brand new sled—all spiffy and red.

I lived on the fourth floor, just above Howy’s apartment, and I could see all the way across the field below to the IC train tracks that were behind the Projects. I thought the words IC were awfully funny, because I thought, how could railroad tracks see. To me they seemed like miles and miles away. I liked watching the trains. On a clear night, you could see the train’s lights in the dark from the engine to the caboose, as it slowly moved across the field and out of sight. Sometimes, I saw sparks come from the smokestack, as they flickered and fleeted into the night. The steam engine always awed me the most, as it chugged, chugged along, and hooted long and short blasts of steam that screamed as it passed a street or went under a bridge. But, that night it snowed so hard, I couldn’t see past the street below the apartment house.

My elbows rested on the windowsill, and my chin was cupped in my hands. I looked at those big puffy white balls that came out of the sky. My head rocked in rhythm to the falling snow and the carols that played on the radio, while Grandpa tried to stay in tune. I pretended that I had snowball fights, made snowmen, and rode my brand new sled with my new friend Howy. I was so excited that night; I wanted to touch the snow right then and there, but it was not to be. I had to wait until morning.

Howy was older than I was. I was three years younger. He was in the third grade. He knew about everything around the Projects, where to buy candy and ice cream, where secret hiding places were, and who were the bad guys and the good guys.

Howy said he was going to show me the ropes the next day. I thought that was a funny expression. What did ropes have to do with sledding? Anyway, I was so excited I had my sled ready in the stairwell, just outside the back kitchen door. It had never been used before. It had yellow lettering, with speed stripes coming off the last word. It was a “RED RACER,” all spiffy and shiny with chrome runners eager to be used.

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