I was eight years old when I discovered that the Protestant Cemetery was an ideal place for winter sport. It was close to my home and I already treated it as a fair weather playground and source of bouquets for my mother, which I selected from the profusion of flowers left after a burial. The graves were dispersed over two steep hills that descended one below the other, creating nice steep runs for sledding. The challenge of slaloming around the grave stones only added to the excitement.
One luminous day, after a grand snow storm, I arrived at the cemetery pulling my red sled, its runners freshly sharpened by my father with the whetting stone he used on kitchen knives. The iron gate was frozen open, making it easy to enter and begin a glorious day of many successful runs.
Maybe it was partly because I was tired that the accident happened. I’d been there for hours and the sun was beginning to set, flooding the sky with colors you only see in the winter; deep tangerine fading to peach and then pink. I had to get home for supper but decided on just one more run. In previous trips down I’d been slowed by a space of flat road that separated the hills, but the repeated passes of my sled and the dropping temperature had crusted the road with ice.
I felt a deep thrill as I plunged down the first hill, shot over the road and launched into the air. My delight was short-lived because I lost control and separated from my sled just as I was airborne over a large rectangular rock of heavy marble. My stomach hit the gravestone first and I collapsed over it like a limp doll, hyperventilating from the blow. I had never heard of getting the wind knocked out of you and my first thought was that this might be what dying felt like. But in a short while I was able to pick myself up and look for my sled.
I never discussed the accident with anyone for fear my days of cemetery sledding would be ended. But the memory is strong and after a recent snowfall I thought of it and made this watercolor, choosing to illustrate the good part, before I landed on the gravestone.