Living in a hilly Alexandria neighborhood as we do, when winter rolls in and the snow starts to fall, my daughter and her friends can usually have a bit of sledding fun in the yards or down at the park. Sledding with her naturally takes my mind back to when I was a kid enjoying the snow. And when it came to sledding, I had it pretty good.
York County, where I grew up, is for the most part devoid of hills. It’s quite flat. Because of this, when the snow fell people grabbed their sleds and headed to the biggest hill around: an elevation on the east bank of the Harwood’s Mill Reservoir along George Washington Memorial Highway in Tabb, VA.
This was a perfect spot for sledding. The hill was substantial; it was tall and very wide, and of an even slope along its entire width. At the bottom where the hill leveled out were a few willow trees one had to be mindful of, and then a flat area where one could decelerate without fear of flying onto the highway.
I have memories of sledding there, usually with my father and some friends, on many occasions over the years. Sometimes I had a proper sled with me, sometimes just a sheet of cardboard. Always, I had fun.
I was standing with my parents in a crowd along Duke of Gloucester street in Colonial Williamsburg one autumn day in 1978. I remember the moment well, though I was only six years old at the time. People had gathered to meet Perry Como and John Wayne who were scheduled to make a public appearance in the vicinity of the colonial Printing Office & Post Office. They were in Williamsburg filming the upcoming Perry Como’s Early American Christmas TV special, which aired a short time later, on Friday, December 13th.
My father was a particular fan of Perry Como (though I didn’t know who he was), and so we arrived early in order to find a good spot to meet the celebrities as they came out onto the street. We were waiting there for some time; as I recall the singer and actor were running a bit late (the latter moreso than the former, it would turn out). Finally and to much applause Perry Como emerged from a garden path that ran between two of the colonial houses on the streetside. He was alone, and began shaking hands and chatting with the crowd.
It seemed that I was the only one frustrated that John Wayne hadn’t yet appeared. After staring down that path for several minutes, I turned and loudly cried out in a voice heard by all, “Wait a minute! Where’s John Wayne?!” It was laughter all around and a smiling Perry Como walked over and tousled my hair!
My parents told that story to friends and family more times than I could count, over the years. It’s an amusing little anecdote I wanted to share, as I just noticed that the entire 42-minute Christmas special has recently been placed online (thanks Cost Ander). You can see it above (here’s the direct link) and here is a WAVY TV-10 news report from 1978 in which local anchor Bruce Rader discusses the filming of the TV special.
I have a great pile of movies and TV specials of olde that I watch religiously every year around the holidays — and I drive my wife and daughter crazy with some of them (Little Lord Fauntleroy (1980) yearly is too much for some, apparently). It’s a real treat to be able to add this Christmas special, of which I have a very particular memory, to the list.