The last time we saw him he was at the top of the neighbors’ sledding hill, brushing the snow off of his Carharts after a lightning speed solo trip on the orange toboggan.
His best friend just came back from the shop with his chainsaw to cut down a dead tree that he thought was in the way of the epic run they were building.
All the kids had already gone in the house due to frozen cheeks and my little sister and I, exhausted from a half hour of trying to save Edie from the ideas she had about running, unassisted and unafraid, down the sledding hill, decided we would all be safer and happier in my living room.
And so that’s where we left him — grampa Gene with his best friend, neighbor and grampa himself, Kelly — alone with two other dads, a slick sledding hill, a stack of sleds and no supervision.
“I bet if Gene and I took that orange sled down this hill together we could get going ’bout 150,” I heard Kelly say as he walked up the hill behind me.
And so I called Dad. I knew he wouldn’t want to miss out on a chance to go 150.
I should have known better, but neighbor Kelly is notorious for building epic escapades in the middle of an ordinary Sunday afternoon.
And in the winter, the go-to adventure is always their sledding hill, which is as meticulously cared for as an Olympic rated luge track.
“So, did you and Kelly go 150?” I asked Dad, thinking his unusual silence was a little suspicious.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “It was plenty fast.”
He sort of half-laughed the way a kid does when he’s holding on to something funny but knows giving in will undoubtedly mean having to explain himself.
Which is exactly what happened as he entered the living room scene, with my mom, little sister and husband all staring at him, knowing there was more to the story.
“What,” I said.
He scratched his head where his hat had been, making his silver, scruffy hair stand up straight and gave it up.
“Oh, it … it was bad,” he puffed. “Kelly got hurt. I don’t know …”
“What? How? Where?”
“Well, his arm I think. Think he tore a tendon. I don’t know … We tried snowboarding.”
“Yeah, well it’s not a challenge for those young guys; they just fly right down there. It’s more fun for us. To see how far we can go. Anyway. I hurt my shoulder … ”
“Yeah, but he wiped out pretty bad at the bottom, don’t know how much hand shaking he’ll be doing these days … ”
“Might be the end of his curling career … ”
And the conversation spun on from there about past near misses, heroic injuries and the epic 2-mile toboggan run from the hay field to the barnyard. One story blended into the next the way they do when you get an old guy rolling in memories with a friend who’s lived up the hill from him his entire life and can always be counted on to help with things like roundup, keys locked in cars, or kittens stuck behind refrigerators.
My favorite is the time he spent the evening at our house in the dark sitting on the floor in the living room while Dad sat in his easy chair, both holding BB guns pointed at the open cabinet under the sink waiting for the unwelcome pack rat they were hunting to make his next and final appearance, a really great scene in the wonderfully ordinary story of their long friendship.
“Well, if there’s a chance to go sledding I’m taking it,” Dad said when someone swung back around to ask how his shoulder was feeling.
And I think that might be the moral of the story, and maybe of friendship in general, no matter how old and reckless you get.