The Western Flyer and the Newspaper

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 7, 2019

Years ago, while standing near a window as a freshman in a morning class at a Tennessee high school, I noticed a large snowflake fall from the sky. By the time the class bell rang, the snow was starting to settle on the yellow buses lining up near the front door to carry us home. We needed to leave in a hurry, because every white, delicate, falling flake stuck to the pavement like glue. 

Quickly the town of McMinnville, Tennessee was covered with a blanket of snow.  Kids ran home to be wrapped in layers of clothing adorned with ear muffs, mittens, and rubber galoshes.  Many of my friends and I lived near Dr. Smoot’s house, which sat atop a perfect sled riding hill.  The gracious doctor and his wife allowed their property to become public transportation for sleds and anything else deemed suitable to glide swiftly down their hill.

Nearly a foot of snow settled on the downtown streets and schools were closed for days. The Smoot’s land was packed with sled riders and squealing kids who were often invited indoors for Snow Cream, cookies, and a bit of warmth.

I didn’t own a sled, but Barbara and her sister Jane did, until the day it broke beyond repair as one of us raced it down the slope.

“Barbara, what are we going to do without your sled?” I screeched.    We collected piggy bank money, a bit more cash from our parents, and headed to the Western Auto store downtown on foot.

The Barren Fork river runs through the town of McMinnville and for us to reach the store we needed to cross the large steel Westwood Bridge.  When one needs a sled to slide down Smoot Hill, one has no fear of raging water, out of control cars, or freezing feet.

When we arrived at the hardware store, the smell of hot cocoa mixed with pipe tobacco warmed our senses.  There it was, the Western Flyer sled needing a home.  We quickly paid, drank our complimentary cocoa, and headed back to the bridge.

We took turns pulling one another on the sled as we started across the little walkway attached to the side of the bridge.  We laughed with delight as we tried to run in the deep snow.  Smoot Hill was waiting, for heaven’s sake!

We were so taken with our Western Flyer we failed to notice a truck stopped to see what we were doing. Two local newspaper reporters with a camera stepped out. They wanted to take our picture and question why three girls would trek three miles to town over an icy river and defy frostbite. 

“To get a new Western Flyer Sled!” we yelled in unison.  And, just like that, we were on the front page of the local paper the next morning.

I guess you are wondering why I wrote this story, right? 

Well, with the closing of many brick and mortar stores and with the advent of digital news, it is my duty as an old fuddy-duddy to curtail the madness.

Today we all love the convenience of online shopping, apps for reading digital news, and less time spent searching for items.  Yours truly has found the internet an absolute delight when connecting with old friends and needing pertinent information of any kind. 

Having said that, what do we miss when we “save time” by computer shopping or quickly reading digital news? Could it be that while we are staring at our iPads, phones and computers, we missed a delicate snowflake falling to the ground below? 

And as good as Amazon Prime is, I doubt they could ever deliver a sled faster than it took three teens to acquire the gleaming red metal and wood flyer at the Western Auto store.   Nor does Amazon offer complimentary cocoa, welcome you with a smile or leave you with a memory of a fantastic snowy day with friends.

When we become glued to our computer lives, we often forget there is a world that needs a bit of laughter one can hear and not see, just a smiley face emoji on our phones. 

When we don’t pick up the newspaper and read it’s black and white print, we just might miss a story that will make us smile, or an obituary that will make us weep. Local newspapers are the compiled heartbeat of a community that forms the bridge to connect us.

No, we can’t return to the past, but perhaps the past needs to remind us that we might just miss the opportunity to fly down a hill, scream with delight, and be on the front page of the newspaper if we don’t take the time to look out the window.