We lived near the bottom of a long hill, a hill that kept going forever.
From the top of the hill came stories, evasions, mysteries that were never solved. I would sometimes look up the hill and wonder.
Our own house was embedded into the hill. We sledded down our side yard in winter, mowed sideways in summer. We were the blue house with the many front steps, a big old house where kids could roam but today it was summer. Day camp was over. I could hear the kids up on Prospect.
“Can we go up the hill?”
We heard the sigh so we ran.
We flew out the double Dutch door, my younger sister and I, sprinting down the flagstone path and up to Prospect St. We joined the argument. A Prospect boy had a kickball under his arm.
It’s hard to say who saw it first, but the road dust got quiet. I turned, and I took in a breath. We watched it park, its nose pointing down the hill.
I had heard it was up there.
Mr. Zinman opened the door. “Get on!” he shouted.
The kickball rolled through the chalky hopscotch as we ran full-sprint to Mr. Zinman’s antique fire truck. We climbed up and swung our legs over the open sides.
My sister sat next to me. I looked at her little hands squeezing the wooden rail. Suddenly, I wasn’t exactly sure of my mother’s opinion of this.
“Hold on!” shouted Mr. Zinman from the driver’s seat.
The motor roared beneath us.
Down the hill we went. We zoomed past Mrs. Dallis.
“Bye!” we called out, waving.
Mrs. Dallis stood wordless with her hands on her hips. My mother was in the kitchen, somewhere, but we would be back soon. When the fire truck turned onto Ashford Avenue, we leaned into each other, laughing. We didn’t know where we were going, but it didn’t matter. Mr. Zinman didn’t seem concerned and the warm wind blew on our faces.
Mr. Zinman took us on a grand tour of Ardsley, the engine noise of our summer adventure taking over as we explored our town in a new way, passing the fire station, the town Christmas tree with the tangled lights. Big Top, where I bought my Reggie bars and the little wax bottles of tasty sugar juice.
We soon flew up the hilly backroad toward the abandoned house with the chickens perched on the window sills. Feathers and dirt clung to the lace curtains and I thought of my mother because she sometimes bought eggs there.
That’s where we hit the big bump. I watched my sister’s hands leave the wooden rail and she was airborne next to me. I grabbed her, and the kids around us made a group noise as if they were midair, too. We planted back down. A wisp of fear made me place my sister’s hands on the wooden rail and look at how she was seated. I told her to hold on, and then I turned away from her hands.
The myth was alive, and I was in it.
4 thoughts on “The Hill”
Amy, you are a gifted writer! What a pleasure it was to read your story, a new perspective on a storyline with which I am of course familiar.
I had no idea that the top of The Hill was such a mysterious place, although in retrospect, goats, chickens and antique fire engines couldn’t help but conjure stories and rumors.
The fire engine was a tractor-trailer hook and ladder, vintage circa 1927, 60 feet in length. It required two drivers; my father would steer the back while one of his mechanics took the front. He bought it in 1972, from a firehouse in New Jersey. On my fifth birthday we drove out to the firehouse and he presented it to me as a birthday present (though I am sure it was a toy for himself more than for me). I sat in the canopyless front in my parka, hat and mittens, immersed in the frigid breeze, the drowning roar of the engine and the excitement of this new adventure. We drove it all the way back to Ardsley: across the GWB, past the Ardsley fire station, and up The Hill. Turning it around and backing it up Hillcrest Avenue was no small task!
Nor was getting it ready each year for the Ardsley Memorial Day Parade; just getting it started typically took more than a day, and several trips to the auto parts store. My dad soon outfitted the main 40-foot extension ladder with a plywood platform so that children (and the young at heart) could ride on it in the parade. The story you recounted might have been at the end of summer as you recall, but more likely took place on the day before Memorial Day, when we would take it for a test run.
The rest of the year, it was parked at the foot of our driveway, the apex of The Hill, where its ladders, hoses, and countless nooks served as a playhouse and jungle gym for my sister and me, our friends and neighbors. I recall the day Laura Plitnick fell down through the ladder before the plywood platform was installed. Her back was thoroughly scraped up. No grownups were home, so we covered her back with about 30 band-aids, the only first aid we knew.
Once we grew too old to clamber on it (or perhaps when the neighbors or Village objected to its continues presence) my dad moved the fire engine to one of his equipment yards, where it fell into disrepair. He eventually sold it when he gave up the yard, and I do not know where it is today. Seeing your posted photo (I assume of some other vintage truck?) made me realize I do not have a single photo of of “my” beloved hook and ladder. I shall have to look through my mother’s old photo albums and find some.
I look forward to reading more ’77 posts on your blog!
Hello Peter!!! Thank you so much for writing this! You were so lucky to have had that experience of living with that beautiful old fire truck and driving it across the GW bridge! Great memory!!! I love the story you wrote here of bandaiding Laura Plitnick. That’s how it was back then! We would leave the house for hours at a time, go around Ardsley, to the park, the stream, etc. Things happened! We had creative childhoods, for sure, and one of my very favorite memories was of riding that fire truck. I am grateful I was around on Prospect that day to climb aboard. I remember you that day, too, or is my memory filling in blanks?! I remember being so impressed you had your very own fire truck. 🙂 Thanks so much for reading my post and writing here. I am so glad you did. Many heartfelt thanks, Amy ps yes, the top of Larchmont was totally cool lol!
Hi Amy! As one of the kids from up on Prospect, I really enjoyed reading this story! Thanks to Peter for passing along the link to your blog. I remember hanging out with you in your big old house, sitting outside on that little porch. And I certainly remember the Zinman’s firetruck. Didn’t we take a school trip up there to see it? The “top of Larchmont” is a very mysterious place in my memory as well. One thing you might have forgotten, however — it’s Prospect Ave., not Prospect St. (just a minor detail!) I’ve driven by our old house a few times in recent years, to show my daughter where I grew up. It’s amazing how so much changes, how small everything looks, yet it is still somehow very much the same.
All the best to you! – Dana
Hi Dana!! I remember your house on Prospect! The cool street lol. Thank you so much for reading the post! I have such a strong visual memory of that day on the fire truck. Mr. Zinman was so nice and it was such a gift to us kids. I’ll never forget that lovely casual feeling of hopping on that old fire truck and going for that amazing ride around the “village.” 🙂 When I drove passed my old house a few years ago, I was also struck at how small everything was. I thought it was enormous at the time! Please say hello to your family for me! I think you went to HS up around me? We’re outside Boston. Thank you again for reading and for commenting here. I loved hearing from you. All the best to you, too, Amy