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Red Hill

Although we haven't had any snow yet this year where I live, I've seen the reports of others elsewhere who have. The sight of those snows set me to thinking about the enjoyable times we kids had sledding while growing up in East Tennessee.

Most of the time, we sledded in the cow pasture of Mr. Coomer, a farmer who lived across Fort Sumter Road from us (as seen in the accompanying photo), or on the hillsides of my grandfather's farm on our side of the road. (I wrote about some of our sledding escapades in those cow pastures in the January-February 2023 issue of Good Old Days.) But in a few instances, we went about a quarter mile away on Fort Sumter Road to sled on what we called Red Hill.

Fort Sumter Road started at the intersection with Hill Road, which ran from the community of Halls northward toward Union County. At that intersection was a small country store. My great grandfather and grandfather ran the store in its earliest days, and Daddy lived above the store with my grandparents. A few yards out Hill Road was my great grandparents' house, and across the road from their house and the store was Fort Sumter School, a two-room clapboard school building where Daddy attended through eighth grade. He then attended high school about two miles away in Halls.

Turning off Hill Road onto Fort Sumter Road, one passed Salem Baptist Church and cemetery on the left and then coursed downhill through several twists and turns of what we called Red Hill. (I'm still unsure of why we called it that. Perhaps it was because of the red clay bank that bordered the left side of the road as one went down the hill.)

Just before one reached the red bank was the home of Ed McNeil and his wife. They had a small "farm," not much acreage but a garden and several animals, most notable of which was a peacock. That peacock would screech every time a car passed by on the road below, and we could hear it quite clearly all the way over at our house, which was close to half a mile away. Her, her, heraw, heraw, heraw! it would screech, announcing to everyone farther down the road that a car was coming. People who lived nearby and passed the McNeils' regularly had gotten used to it, but drivers unfamiliar with the area were scared out of their skins as they passed the peacock and heard its unexpected terrifying screech.

The McNeils also had a pet monkey, which they kept in a cage inside the house. Every Halloween when we kids would knock on their door while trick or treating, the McNeils insisted that we come into the house so they could guess who we were. I always hated that because the monkey gave the house a strong, repulsive odor, but the lure of candy was stronger. We wouldn't wait for the McNeils to guess who we were. We'd remove our masks or simply tell them whose children we were, hoping to get our candy and exit before the odor overcame us.

Behind the McNeil's house was another house where my good friend Delmer Henderson lived. We played baseball and "army" together all year long, but when snow came, Red Hill was our playground, at least for a while. (After I went out of state for college, I lost track of Delmer. Years later, I learned that he had served in the Army and is now a dermatologist with a practice in Atlanta.)

Below the McNeil's house and on the opposite side of the road from the clay bank was a steep drop-off into a deep ditch. It was down that steep hill and between those two features that we sometimes sledded. The area was heavily shaded and therefore did not melt quickly. The few vehicles that dared venture down the hill had packed the snow into a perfect sledding venue. Just to be on the safe side, we always posted someone at the bottom of the hill, and, if a car was approaching, he would yell up to the sledders who were preparing to make a run down.

The only thing we disliked about sledding on Red Hill was that since it was a fairly heavily traveled route and remained snow packed and icy even after other roads became passable, the county road crews usually were quick about sending a cinder truck to spread the clinkers that would enable car tires to gain traction on the snow. The appearance of the cinder truck pretty much ended our day's sledding, at least on Red Hill. If we wanted to continue sledding, we had to return to the cow pastures closer to home.

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