Sacrifices and sledding

“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.” — Thomas Jefferson

“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”
— Thomas Jefferson

“Come on, this affects all of us, man! Our basic freedoms!”
— The Big Lebowski

As soon as last month’s snow covered the ground well enough to drag out a sled, some friends and I headed out to seek thrills on the hills of Richmond. We made a beeline for the Virginia War Memorial, shuffling across icy Belvidere Street to get there as we have several times in years past. When we reached the hill behind the Memorial, only one of us made it down the rollicking descent before we noticed a commotion at the foot of the hill. A guy with a walkie-talkie was standing next to his parked truck yelling at another group of sledders. From the top of the hill we couldn’t catch exactly what he was saying, but it seemed like he was trying to discourage them from sledding. They complied, trudging away with their plastic trash can lids in tow. After this, the walkie-talkie guy noticed us, and started yelling in our direction. Through the wind our group was collectively able to extract the phrases “people whose names are on that wall died for this country,” “desecrating this place,” and “calling the cops.” Wearing what appeared to be a replica Civil War-era military jacket and waving his arms, the man said something into his walkie-talkie and grimaced at us. We did not respond, but decided confusedly to steer clear of the angry yelling person. As a group we started walking back across Belvidere, but after thinking it over I realized that we shouldn’t have backed down just to avoid the possibly-contagious crazy emanating from the walkie-talkie guy. Here’s why:

  • As far as I could tell, the walkie-talkie man didn’t appear to be an official employee of the Memorial, and didn’t have a uniform or vehicle carrying any patches or decals that would show they belonged to the state. From his manner, I can only conclude that more likely he was just some sort of deranged enthusiast who gets dragged away from the Memorial three times a week for impersonating employees.
  • The walkie-talkie man could have been bluffing about calling the police, and just wanted to intimidate us away from his personal, private hangout.
  • I’ve sledded down that hill dozens of times over the past several years and never had any kind of similar trouble. One year (2003 maybe?) a police car pulled over at the foot of the hill and the officer rolled down the window, told us to please be careful, and (after we waved in assent) rode off.
  • Even if the police did show up and did for some reason ask us to leave, it would probably take them 30 minutes to get there, and we would have done as they asked immediately and gone home with half an hour of great sledding under our belts.
  • The War Memorial is a public, state-run institution that’s open every day free of charge. Not to sound trite, but it was bought by our tax dollars and we all own it. It’s not like we went to somebody’s private yard and started a sledding resort, we just wanted to hurl our bodies down a commonly-owned hill for about 30 minutes until we were exhausted.
  • The War Memorial has no signage about staying off the lawn or anything, and in fact I thought visitors were encouraged to roam the grounds. Their web site also says nothing about staying only inside the Memorial area itself. If access to the hill is fine when walking, why wouldn’t it be fine when sledding? Furthermore, we all had plastic sleds that glide over the snow and never actually touch the surface of the ground belonging to the War Memorial. Even if someone with a metal-railed sled had arrived, it still wouldn’t make a difference because the snow was quite deep enough to handle it this year.
  • There can’t be anything good about using the word “desecrating” so lightly. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call “the erosion of the English language.” To desecrate means to violate or abuse, and I think most people would agree that sledding would rather bring life to the place. So to hear somebody say “desecrate” in reference to sledding seems silly or used for purposefully for hyperbole, like when somebody says they’re about to “murder that cheeseburger.”
  • One might assume that the good, clean, all-American fun that is sledding — especially surrounded by friends under the looming image of your favorite city — would be a perfect example of what Virginia war casualties died to protect. The simple fact that we wanted to sled didn’t imply disrespect to fallen soldiers; we did it with a spirit of joy and if we had thought further about it, probably even a sense of gratitude for such a prime sledding location for a Memorial. I can’t imagine that enjoying this activity could be considered “desecrating” anything.

Since girlhood I’ve loved the snow and longed for it so much every year. Some of my best memories are of sledding down the hill at the elementary school where I grew up. When it gets cold I barely dare to look forward to snow, knowing it doesn’t happen that much anymore. So whenever it does snow, sledding is the first thought that leaps into my brain and brings me a feeling of anticipation that just can’t be replicated. This is what living is all about. So the next time it snows, I’m resolved to return to my favorite sledding hill and enjoy myself innocently and wholeheartedly until I’m sent away by a proper authority.

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Tess Shebaylo

Tess Shebaylo is a freelance writer, crafter, history geek, and compulsive organizer. She works at Tumblr and lives in Church Hill with her daughter, Morella.

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