Whenever I got hurt as a kid, my father would always say the same thing, “Get up, Dave. You’re not hurt. Rub some dirt on it.”
The phrase, rub some dirt on it, is a baseball colloquialism. Dad’s a big baseball fan, and his infectious love for the game rubbed off on his two sons, myself, and my older brother Steve. If we got hit by a pitch, fell down on our bike, or ran into a snow fence when sledding, the message was the same.
“Rub some dirt on it.”
Most of the time, he was right. Now, I wouldn’t literally rub dirt on a bruise or cut, but I would get up, dust myself off, and then get back out there. After a while, we started to give my father the same advice whenever he got banged up.
At Nagawaukee Golf Course, off of Maple Drive, in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, there is a fantastic sledding hill. My father, brother, and I would go there multiple times each winter when I was in middle school.
Now on one particular winter weekend, the conditions at the park were magnificent. The day before, we were hit with a few inches of wintry mix, meaning some snow, sleet and rain. Right after the precipitation stopped, the temperature dropped. Snow and sleet covered the ground and froze solid. The slippery surface provided barely enough traction to walk up the hill.
My brother and I brought our red plastic sleds, and my father brought an inner-tube. The three of us marched to the summit of Mount Nagawaukee, hopped in our rides, and sailed down the icy terrain.
Dad sailed ahead of Steve and I, and at about the halfway point of the hill, his inner-tube started to turn. He was going down backwards for a little bit, and near the end of the hill, he wisely bailed out. Dad tumbled out of the tube, and Steve and I intentionally crashed our sleds right behind him.
Even though the hill flattened out, we all had to force ourselves to stop because our momentum never slowed down on the glare ice. If we didn’t intentionally bail out, we would have catapulted over a ditch and into the road. Also, at the bottom of the hill right in front of the ditch, only about a foot off the ground was a thick steel cable. Running parallel to the road, the cable was an inch in diameter, and it looped between short wooden posts, signifying the edge of the golf course.
“That was lame. I shouldn’t have bailed out so soon. There was still some hill left,” Dad said as we walked back up the hill. Steve and I shrugged our shoulders.
The second run started just like the first. Dad quickly took the lead. The combination of pumped up plastic inner-tube on a steep decline of glare ice allowed my father to travel at incredible speeds. Halfway down, he accidentally spun backwards and headed down the hill blind. Steve and I followed close behind, and shouted as he approached the end of the run, “BAIL OUT! BAIL OUT!”
The inner-tube exploded as Dad slammed sideways into the steel cable wire. It wasn’t quite a clothesline because Dad hit the wire just below his armpit, but he still was whipsawed to the ground, making him crash onto his shoulder. The weight of my father collapsing onto the ice blew a hole into the side of the tube and sent it squealing through the air like a deflating balloon. It finally landed on the other side of the road.
Steve and I skidded to a stop right in front of him. We didn’t know if we should laugh or not, so for a moment, we said nothing at all.
I think Steve broke the silence. He said, “Dad. That was… AWESOME! But I think you broke the tube. It flew across the road.”
Dad responded with some groans.
“Get up Dad. You’re not hurt,” I said.
He continued to grimace in pain.
“Rub some dirt on it,” I added.
Dad managed to sit back up. He muttered a few words, “We’ve got to go back to the car.”
Reluctantly, Steve and I agreed. Apparently, rubbing dirt on it wasn’t going to work for Dad. I grabbed the sleds, and Steve retrieved the flattened inner-tube. Dad stood up and we walked a half mile back to the car.
When Dad crashed, he cracked two ribs. I don’t remember how long it took his ribs to heel, but he didn’t move very quickly for a month or two.
Any time we retell the sledding story, Dad always says the same thing, “But it was a great ride. It was a great ride.”