To anyone who has ever lived more than four days in Arlington, it means Robbins Farm Park [61 Eastern Ave., Arlington, 02476, on Google Maps.]
Growing up in Arlington late in the last century, the Farm was a place for all seasons, all sports, and all stages of life.
We played organized and disorganized baseball, tackle and flag football [the Brackett Packers enjoyed a reign of spectacular mediocrity in the mid-1970s], pick-up basketball, took tennis lessons, rode the swings, struggled to get across the monkey bars, and entangled ourselves in a iron cage/jungle gym that has long-since been litigated out of existence.
We took the field during recess in the elementary school and played parachute, softball, and soccer.
Soccer was taking America by storm, we were told during the Nixon Administration.
Menotomy Rocks Park was a closer option for baseball and pond hockey. We lived at the Farm. It was where we watched the July 4th festivities in Boston. It was our safe zone and primary after-school destination once the legendary Mrs. Julia Morrison led us across Eastern Ave. There, at the Farm, we had snowball fights, fun fights, real fights, detonated whatever fireworks we could procure, and talked about everything kids talk about when parents aren't around. We talk about baseball, football, hockey, and girls. We swore a lot, too.
It is where I had my first, and last, cigarette. It is where I stole my first, but thankfully not last, kiss.
Nowadays, the fights would consign us to a regimen of anti-anxiety drugs and detention. The smoking, even that one cigarette, would forever label us as degenerates. The fireworks would result in intervention from the State Police and ATF. And that kiss, although it was welcomed as far as I can remember, would have gotten me six months in an internment camp, followed by 12 years of sensitivity training and gender role instruction.
Some consider all of that progress. Others, not so much.
There was one thing we did at the Farm that made it our Winter Paradise.
The Farm was the place to sled, especially after we got bored racing down the hill in our own yard, and down our own street. Dodging the oncoming cars taking would lose its allure after 10 or 15 runs.
We never really appreciated the gem that the Farm Park was as children, and remains. It offers a spectacular and unparalleled view of Cambridge and Boston from the north and west.
It is forever [at least until 9 p.m.] open, and always wide open.
Thanks to the Robbins Family, the people of Arlington, and the town's leadership, it will [hopefully] never change.
There are some locales in the United States that now want to ban, or heavily curtail sledding. They cite rising legal costs resulting from injury claims as a primary reason.
Joesph A. Curro is the Vice Chair of the Arlington Board of Selectmen. He's grew up on the South Shore, and between the two of us, we have lived in Arlington since 1970.
He reassured me that the thought of banning sledding has yet to infect Arlington's political discourse.
He aptly calls the push to halt sledding "a slippery slope."
"I have never heard a suggestion about banning sledding in Arlington, nor could I conceive of taking such a step. Sledding is one of the joyous activities of winter, and anyone visiting Robbins Farm Park on a snowy day will see it overrun with families and children laughing, having a good time, and enjoying the glorious view of Boston," he told us Thursday via email.
If there was a way I could still vote in Arlington, and I'm sure there probably is given some of the shenanigans that go on there at times, Joe would have my Pro-Sledding Faction vote.
"Pretty much any outdoor activity carries some inherent risk, and it is up to us as adults to be aware and to educate our kids about how to stay safe," he added.
Way. Too. Much. Common. Sense.
Especially for an elected official.
The Honorable Selectman is so right.
There is another, larger, reason at play as to why these municipalities want to curtail, or ban, sledding.
These ill-guided souls believe that you can create an environment that protects kids from every ill out there. Railing against the "Wussification of America" isn't new for us. Just check the OBF Twitter feed.
Our "There's A Reason Your Kid Isn't Playing - They're Not Good Enough" column in October generated hundreds of responses, thousands of shares on social media, and about 1 million [and counting] page views. It struck the sciatic nerve in the exasperating battle against our nation's Wussification.
They've already taken away tag, dodge ball, rough play, physical contact, games like "War" and "Cowboys and Indians," hide and seek, unfettered street hockey, Muckle, any substantive recess, being booted of the house until it gets dark, and nearly all unorganized physical activity no monitored by overzealous parents.
The push to ban sledding, even in far off Iowa, has generated blowback and criticism from precincts here in Boston and elsewhere.
This could mark a Winter Stalingrad in the war on "Just About Any Unorganized Physical Activity That Allows Kids to Enjoy Themselves Away From Their Smartphones and Hi-Def Computer Screens."
Leslie Johnston lived on Pine Ridge Road in Arlington in the 1970s and early 80s, about a 3-wood from the Farm Park's back entrance. She's a member of the always active "Proud To Be From Arlington [Before It Was Trendy]" Facebook page.
"That bump in the Farm was certain to bruise a tailbone, but that hill gave me some great childhood memories," she wrote from California. "This banning of sledding stuff has me so disturbed. The kids of today are going to become the absolute wimps of tomorrow. This silly ban is coming from parents who don't want to watch their kids or deal with the 'inconveniences' of nursing a kid's wounds, both literally and figuratively. No parent wants their kid to get hurt, certainly ... Kids today are not being raised to use judgment because there will be dumb rules like this. You learn judgment quickly when you see a chain-link fence at the bottom of a hill coming at you at the speed of light. You may think twice about doing it again."
We'll get to that chain-link fence in a minute, BTW.
"Lessons learned as a child can be painful at the time but, more often then not, are highly entertaining when reflected upon in our older years," she added.
Arlington native Russ Mottla, who has also moved to warmer climes in California, "grew up sledding at Robbins Farm. On a snow day or a weekend there would be close to 100 kids sledding down that upper hill. The best advice my parents had and we were made to fear was: 'Watch out for the toboggans because they can't steer.' "
Sounds like a lawsuit to me.
Jennifer Burr Villandry risked her life sledding at the Farm Park throughout her childhood. "Nothing could beat sledding at the Farm in the '70s, when Brackett School kids could walk over any time we wanted, and stay until it was dark or we were too numb to stand it anymore," she wrote. "Having no homework, ever , helped make these great memories that I have no pictures of, because there were never any parents around to hold a camera."
No homework [it was the 1970s after all]. No parents. No wonder it all seemed like so much fun. And we lived to tell about it.
The fun part hasn't changed in 2015. If you drove by places like the Farm, Spy Pond Park, the hills of Winchester Country Club, Blue Hills, Boston Common, Olmsted Park, or any of the spots on this solid list from Massvacation.Com on Thursday, there's no doubt you would have found smiling, laughing, red-cheeked [sorry, Dan Snyder], cold, partly-frozen kids sledding. Many were probably unwilling to leave until the last possible moment.
There is so much kid joy in being able to head to the biggest, closest hill, especially on a no-school Snow Day, and spend all afternoon until supper time rocketing down the incline. Usually, solo trips would evolve into "How many kids can we fit on one sled" tests of speed and skill. Every race ended in dispute, even without the refs from the Cowboys-Lions game there to screw up the call.
The toboggan was our version of the snow-limo. The "Caution - Seats No More than Four" warning read like a dare.
Four? How about six, seven, or eight?
Sledding is a nice microcosm for life's success. You have to walk up the hill, before you can enjoy the ride down it. There are no real free trips. Carry your down sled. And if you want another ride, you have to walk back up. There's good in work. There's reward in risk. You may wipe out, or wipe someone else out on the way down, but the ride is usually awesome.
I've been looking at countless photos of kids sledding while thinking about this column and not once did I see any with a kid frowning, or looking unhappy. Sure, no one takes photos of their kids after a wipeout, but the crying for those above six will stop as soon as they get back up the hill, and the cold numbs whatever pain they may be feeling.
Arlington's Josh Mendelson has passed the thrill of the Farm Park to his young boy. "I love bringing my son to sled there. It can get a bit crowded but the people are nice, the hill is safe but fast, and the view [from the Upper Hill] is great."
Now, back to that chain-link fence.
My first journey sledding the lower "Big Hill" in the early 1970s at the Farm ended in disaster, lots of screaming, some crying, a broken wooden picket fence, and more than enough juvenile blood.
Locals know that the bottom of the park was once buttressed by something called "The Tar Hill." It was also a launching pad that rivaled Cape Canaveral. That run down the Big Hill culminated with about 20 feet of air. It officially ended when my head and sled obliterated a chunk of a neighboring wooden picket fence. The long and bloody march home with my oldest brother was one of those kid moments that today would have ended in three minutes in with a rescue helicopter, four ambulances, and the Channel 5 news team there to chronicle all of it.
There was never any thought about suing anyone in those days. I got home, got repaired [my dad probably rubbed a little Metaxa on it], and we were left with a funny family story to tell.
The town soon put that chain-link fence at the bottom of the Big Hill. No doubt word spread of my attempt to make the opening of "ABC's Wide World of Sports." I'm still waiting for the Honorary Nameplate.
The agony of defeat indeed. [Damn, Alekseyev was a beast.]
A bloodied face, bumps and bruises were what I deserved for being so foolish. Or so I was told.
No one wants bloodshed on the sledding slopes of Boston, Arlington, Canton, Marlborough, Woburn, Lexington, or Winchester. Bumps, bruises, frozen cheeks, chilled rear-ends, exhilaration, exhaustion, smiles, and a lifetime of memories, however, are a minimal cost for those who dare to partake in such a "life-threatening" activity.
So is the cost of a few lawsuits.
The OBF column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Bill has reported for ESPN, CBSSports.Com, and was a sports/deputy sports editor at the Orlando Sentinel, Denver Post, and several other newspapers. Reach Bill on the OBF Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or at his
OBF email Address. Thanks always for reading.