Sliding Down the “Institute Hill”: Charlie Cruser Remembered it All One Afternoon

Snow days of yore were wondrous. When I think back on snow as a youth growing up in the village of Blawenburg, my vision of that day gets all gauzy and misty with memories as clear as a tear. I remember one snow day afternoon we had gone sledding down Ganz Hill; this was a very steep incline that everyone in the neighborhood slid down. We gathered back at the family kitchen, all my three sisters, my mother and I, and an old chap, our next door neighbor came over.

We were not in the habit of having our neighbors over to our house. He was then in his late 70s, and drove his own tractor and we’d hire him to till a plot for a garden. Beyond an occasional hello we didn’t really know him. But on this occasion he came in and we drank hot chocolate with him as the kitchen windows fogged up. He told us about what it was like to live in the village in the 1930s and ’40s, when that big building next to the lake was used as the ice house.

He told of tractors that drove out onto the ice and dragged the big blocks into the sawdust filled ice-house. He told us about how they used to slide down the big road we called “The Institute Hill,” now a busy road thick with traffic but then, a dusty old hill perfect for sliding with neighborhood boys in caps and wool mittens.

Charlie’s face was cracked with the weather and a lifetime sitting on a tractor. He spoke softly but animatedly about those days zooming down a hill covered with snow. He had grown up in the village, lived here all his life. His children and grand kids moved into the same house after he passed away.

Whenever it snows I think back on hearing these tales of a childhood where there were ice houses, and snowplows pulled by big Reo trucks, and the same hot chocolate after all was done cozy inside, looking out at the white.