May 26, 2017

Flying Ghosts

Journal—February 25–Saturday

Today was fair and mild, and quite dark this evening due to the late phase of the moon. It’s late tonight for me to be writing in my journal, but I wanted to get this information down while it was still fresh in my mind. I drove to West Paris to Grange for an installation of new officers tonight and became quite enlightened by the happenings in the dark…

Margie had a cold for the last couple of days, so she decided to stay home and keep the fire, while I ventured off to West Paris for the installation of some of their new officers. I had old “Molly” warmed up by the time I had bounced along through the drifts at the end of Hick’s Pond. The road down to Britton’s Bridge was quite well packed and easy to keep in the road. From the bridge across Hawkin’s Flat was another matter! I had enough speed to plow through most of the drifts, but I had to shovel through one small drift just before “Christmas Tree” Charlie’s house.

Charlie heard my huffing and puffing, and came out the narrow path from his one room house to the road to offer me some assistance. I declined his offer not because he had one leg and a wooden crutch under an arm, but because I had finished making a cut to pass Molly through. Charlie was the victim of an accident in the woods many years ago, yet he didn’t let it slow him down. He got his nick name from the many Christmas trees he cut each year to sell on the roadside.

I came to the fork in Greenwood Street where I generally took the low road in the winter, as the hill on High Street often was slippery. Tonight I went through the length of Greenwood Street. I passed Leon Proctor’s, Widow Penley’s, and the Herrick place; just to name a few, before sliding to a stop at High Street intersection. The yellow glowing street lights cast a warm light on the snow banks lining the roadways. I was just finishing a momentary take of my surroundings and checking for other vehicles coming along, when I caught a shadow pass by a shed light at Walter Inman’s house.

Walter’s house sits directly opposite the Greenwood Street turn. I took another second to check again for other vehicles, but things were quite quiet on the road. I sat staring at the light from the one bulb, as it cast a dull light along the edge of the back shed. I must have been dreaming, I thought, when I spied another light up on the hill behind the garage. This light seamed to wink a couple times as someone or something passed. I thought it might be Raymond Farr checking his hens, but this was a little further toward the Howard Ellingwood Place from the hen house.

“Cousin” Beulah was running the meeting tonight, so her opening salvo would surely be long winded—no need to hurry to Grange with a mystery waiting to be solved. I drove into Walter’s driveway and pulled to a stop beside his Rambler station wagon. The door on Molly squealed open in the frosty air, but didn’t drown out the loud “Clear” shouted from the shadows behind the garage. I had intended to inquire at Walter’s door, but the call drew me over the snow bank. I walked in deep, well used footprints around the pile of snow and along a thatch of raspberry canes to the base of the hill. I stopped when I heard the sound of something sliding on snow above me. I looked up just in time to see a silent, dark form pass through the light of a white gas lantern and race to catch up with its ever faster shadow. The form, now a person on skis, landed near me with a ‘thawack’ and sped past following a vague packed trail past the illuminated window of Walter’s shed.

“Wow”, I spoke to no one in particular, but I received a response from up the hill near the lantern. A voice that I now could hear coming from a platform raised slightly above the ground said, “Forty-five this time”. Climbing the hill in the same foot holes I started with, I came to a lantern hanging high on a limb of a tall scraggly hemlock tree. Two boys, mid teens by the look, stood watching me from the platform. “Hi”, I said, “What are you fellas up to?” A chuckle from one and “Ski jumping” grunted the other. “Well, I can see that, but at night?” I smiled with disbelief—surely unseen by them. In their serious manner, I was treated to the full detail of this ski jumping stuff with all the background.

These were the Inman Boys from High Street, and often were interspersed with a Farr or two and a Hazelton now and then. They would climb up a raised tower back from the top of the hill, “seventeen feet four inches high” I was told. Each jumper would bind his boots to the skis, in whatever contrivance or straps he had. They only had the light from one candle in a hurricane lantern to assist their preparations. At the shout of “Clear”, the skier would slide down a long, snow covered ramp from the tower—let me tell you it was narrow and had no sides other than picked hemlock posts scattered randomly along the sides. The end of the ramp had a level section, like a table that was chest high. In a ‘wooosh’ the flight of the skier would lift from the end of the jump out over the landing hill. One or two others would watch from the “Judges Platform” and spot the flying distance based on fir boughs spaced along the hill. The white gas lantern was quite bright and illuminated the hill all the way to the bottom. Once the skier went past the transition, hill to flat, the light in the shed kept him from hitting the shed or garage—a near catastrophe one night when Grampa Walt shut the light off by accident during a jump. The skier would come to a stop just short of the snow bank on High Street, then hustle back to the base of the hill before checking to be sure all was clear. The “Clear” shout would go out again and the rotation continued with everyone shifting positions.

The boys told me that last year they had some friends over watching the goings on, and a communication snafu ensued resulting with a “Clear” from someone that didn’t know what it really meant. The resulting collision between two of the Inman Boys reddened the snow and left a tooth or two for the tooth fairy. The dads ended the night season then and there.

This year the jumpers couldn’t have anyone over but the “regulars” for the night practices. I felt somewhat privileged to stay and watch for quite some time. I was impressed that they didn’t fall—one told me that to fall was the end of jumping for the night because the repair would be too soft to jump on until it had time to harden.

I eventually wound my way down the hill and back to my car. Walter had seen my vehicle and greeted me when I got back. He chuckled his wry chuckle when I told him about watching the boys. He said he had tried to give them some advice, but figured they would do as they damned pleased anyway. He proudly told me they had competed all over the area in school events, and won their share of awards and provided some quite spectacular thrills and spills for those who took the time to watch these “Flying Ghosts”….

In Awe!
Eleazer Peabody

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