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One Story at a Time

Skiing With Wendell


     It was a perfect and exhilarating day; the sun was shining brightly through the tiny particles of windblown sleet and glinting off the snow, creating diamonds beneath our skis. For the past two hours, since we had arrived at Squilchuck, Wendell had been awkwardly mimicking my every instruction while he chafed at the bit to be ‘skiing.’ Now we were standing on our skis, at the top of the slope, after our third trip up the rope tow.

 “Hey Sis, there has to be a faster way to do this.”


“Not if you want to learn to ski right. I still haven’t shown you how to make a basic turn.”


I proceeded to demonstrate a stem turn, carefully explaining that the weight must be kept on the downhill ski to facilitate the turn around the planted ski pole. As I was turning myself back around, I informed Wendell that in addition to a using this technique to turn it would also allow him to stop. When I looked up at Wendell to see if he had understood my clumsy explanation and demonstration, I found he was inattentive; his entire focus was glued on wistfully watching experienced skiers zigzagging down the slopes.


“Hey, Jute-box, what would happen if I just turned my skis down the hill and pushed off with my poles?”


 “You would break your stupid neck.”


 “No, I won’t.”


Before I could stop him, Wendell planted his poles and with a mighty push he was schussing down the slope. In horror, I called to him to stop, knowing that he had not even mastered the snowplow, and he certainly could not execute a stop turn. He had no idea of how to turn or stop.


Common sense told me that he could not hear me with the wind of his passage and the wind in the sleet whistling past his ears, but I could not help yelling, “Stop, Wendell, STOP!” I didn’t have a prayer of catching him; I was not a good enough skier. How would I stop a run-away skier even if I did manage to catch him? His only hope was to fall before he got going much faster.


 I wasn’t sure whether my involuntary, “Oh my God!” was a curse or a prayer.


I could not watch. I could not look away.  Wendell was flapping his ski poles in the air and his skis were wobbling in-and-out and up-and-down, independently, not together. My beloved brother, my constant companion, my best friend for all of my eighteen years was flying down the bunny hill, out of control. He was not skiing. He was a marionette with a crazed puppeteer jerking his arms and legs.


I kept marveling, “How has he managed to stay on his feet?”


So much flashes through your mind at a moment like that. My BIG brother had showed me how to put the change from the purchase of a block of ice on top of the ice in the cart; the coins would be melted into the surface of the ice when we got home. He was five; I was four. My fifteen-year-old brother purchased a dark blue dye and dyed my old, faded, light blue swimsuit because he thought it was getting indecent, almost transparent. I could ‘hear’ Wendell, the nineteen-year-old tease, gleefully telling his college buddies that his sister was nine-years-old; I sure got some funny looks when I met them.


“Oh, Wendell, I cannot lose you like this,” I whispered.


I was sure Wendell would kill himself, or at least break a leg, if not his neck.


I thought, “Oh, I wish I had never agreed to show Wendell the basics of skiing. Why, oh why, did I do it?” 


I thought about our day. Wendell had rented old, beat up, wooden skis and lace-up boots from Geiger’s, the sporting goods store. Off we went out of town, in Wendell’s snow loving ancient black VW, up the snowy, curvy, icy slick road into the foothills and the Squilchuck ski area.


My first tasks had been to show Wendell how to put the binders and safety straps of his skis on his boots, and then how to walk on the skis. Next came teaching him the herringbone and the snowplow; the simple basics that help a new skier learns to control those seven-plus-foot-long feet that were now attached to his feet. We laughed and we giggled: we threw snow at each other. Wendell fell, learned how to get back up, and how to pack snow into the spot where his derrière had put a divot in the snow. When we got to the rope tow, I thought he was going to be dragged up the hill on his tummy the first time, but even without the rope properly positioned under his right arm, he managed to cling to the towrope and keep his wobbling skies under his feet all of the way to the top of the slope.


Now, I was watching my brother bobbing around like an out of control cartoon character, a ‘Keystone Cop,’ flying down the bunny hill. Only Wendell’s superb physical condition and coordination was allowing him to stay semi-upright on those skis.


I did not know if Wendell could see what I did or not, but he absolutely had to veer off the course he was on. At the bottom of the slope, directly in Wendell’s wildly uncontrolled pathway was a gentleman all togged out in the latest olive green ski apparel; he was coolly and calmly lighting his pipe and not, overtly, paying any attention to the world around him. He, and the image that he projected of the cool sophisticate nonchalantly lighting his pipe as he stood on his brand-new ‘Head’ skis, was the primary subject of his world. He did not see the ‘Keystone Cop’ that was almost upon him, and I do mean upon him.


 I breathed a prayer, “Wendell, turn, for God’s sake turn. Just put more weight on one ski than the other and keep it there. Please, God, let him turn, or make him fall.”


I have never figured out just exactly how Wendell did what he did. I must have blinked. The next thing I knew Wendell was past the fashion plate. His momentum carried him partway up the intermediate hill where he finally fell, breaking one of his rented wooden skis. The fashion plate was still standing at the bottom of the slope with his pipe and lighter in his hands, but he was no longer tanned; he was almost as white as the snow. Wendell had managed to ski right across the front of those brand-new ‘Head’ skis; he never even touched Mr. Fashion Plate, but the curled tips of Mr. Fashion Plate’s new skis were no longer attached to the rest of the skis. They had been surgically amputated.