December 29th, 2009
07:25 AM ET

Dear President Obama #344: Holiday icing

Reporter's Note: President Obama has spoken up about the attempted terror attack on that airplane; however, as promised, I am keeping to my stories of the holiday season in my daily letters to the White House.

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Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

I’ve followed the news of that attempted airplane bombing only loosely. As I have mentioned, I worked so hard during the past few weeks, that I just don’t have much heart for it during these few days off. Glad he was stopped. Glad you’re taking it seriously. Glad you are the president right now, and not me. That said, in the continued spirit of relaxation, I want to tell you another story of holiday seasons past. This one is not so much about Christmas, as about the season of cold.

When we lived in central Illinois, out in the midst of the soybean and corn fields, the entire area was blanketed with an ice storm one particular winter. It came overnight and glazed everything as surely as if molten glass had been poured over the landscape and hardened there. Trees bowed and broke beneath the weight; fence lines sagged as thick as Tootsie Rolls; and cattle swayed beneath heavy mats of ice on their heads and shoulders.

The grass was a marvel; each individual blade so encumbered, that they looked like so many frozen fingers poking up from the turf. A lady who lived in the next farm house walked over to see how we were doing and slipped, taking a beating from those frozen blades in the process.

But what interested my brother and I most, as we wandered the landscape inspecting nature’s handiwork, was the road. It was coated a full inch thick with a crystal clear sheen. “You know,” Robert said, surveying its length, “We could sled on this.”

“Yes, we could,” I replied, my mind warming to the thought.

“Or,” he added with a twinkle in his eye, “we could skate on it!”

It took only minutes for us to race inside, grab our ice skates, and run back to the road where we began strapping them on with numb fingers, amid much giggling joy at the pending adventure. We lived so far out in the country, and the road was so treacherous, we knew there would be no traffic. But there were still inherent dangers. Ice skating, as you may know, is an activity usually reserved for level surfaces. And the road that stretched a good mile or more from our house down to the Kaskaskia River, featured a good many hills along the route.

Accordingly, our start was somewhat shaky. All of our hockey playing had not prepared us for the novelty of having to simultaneously propel ourselves forward, and fight the gravity that wanted to drag us off the crest of the road and into the ditches at every step. But a few hundred yards in, we had the hang of it. We relaxed, picked up speed, and started enjoying the road’s undulations. We powered up the slight slopes with glee, and then launched onto the downhills with abandon. It was like a whole new sport, and we were the pioneers.

Naturally our conversation turned to the final hill just before the river; by far the steepest and longest on the run. Our excitement mounted as we moved closer to it, and so did our velocity. We were so confident by the time we saw the crest looming before us, that we double-timed our skating, driving toward the summit with the reckless enthusiasm that adolescent boys seem to hold the patent on, with the full intent of carrying as much speed as possible into the long steep plummet. It was exhilarating, fantastic, and as we ripped over the top, suddenly horrifying.

There, at the bottom of the icy chute, a mammoth tree was collapsed across the entire roadway, it’s branches and twigs a menacing picket of icy splinters. There was no way around; it spanned everything, including the ditches. It was much too high to jump; much to dense to slip through; and as we discovered in an instant, there were simply no way for us to stop. We turned our blades sideways and shaved ice like a sno-cone vendor; but slid on. We dropped our gloved hands to the roadway and clawed with our fingers; but slid on. We stretched ourselves out bodily, trying with every fiber to seize the glassy surface whistling beneath us, but slid on.

With no other choice, we raised our skates in front of us and braced for impact, which came in an ear-splitting, air shattering explosion of ice and frozen wood. Stinging crystals pelted every exposed bit of skin, and the ragged shrapnel of the branches ripped at our coats and pants. Like a Hollywood car crash, we heard bits of ice clinking to the ground for several seconds after we finally came to a stop, buried deep amid the frozen shards.

A crow called. My brother groaned.

“You OK?” I asked.

“Yea. You?”

We climbed from the wreckage, checked ourselves for open wounds, and found only tender spots that suggested the bruises to come. Then we labored up the slope, collecting our hats on the way, and pulling on the bushes alongside the road to keep from falling. At the top, we looked back down at the near disaster, and contemplated the horrendous injuries that might have resulted. And then we did what seemed the only proper course for two young boys in the midst of an ice storm on the Illinois plains. We went again.

Hope all is well with your adventures.



Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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