In the years leading up to that first round of treatment, my dad had spent lots of weekends singing-for-hire with the We3. Jim’s daughter Teri and I would pal around at some of these outings, dressing alike and becoming fast friends. Sometime around 1974, the group was asked to sing in the chalet of an area ski hill on weekend afternoons. Part, or maybe all, of the payment included free annual ski passes for everyone in the family.

Mt. Hardscrabble was a small ski resort with a half-dozen hills—Big Bear, Little Ed (the bunny hill), Big Ed, Big Drop, Tempo and Run Beautiful—reached by either a rope tow or t-bar. There were no chairlifts during the years we skied there, as I doubt the size of the operation or the length of the runs could justify the added expense. Yet, for a time, Hardscrabble was a rocking fun place to be.

So for three or four seasons, we kids went skiing. We started out with cheap equipment purchased at a ski swap, which included lace-up boots and bear-trap bindings. We all took to the sport though and over time, each of us got better equipment and better at the sport. The ticket was a fold-over colored paper stub stapled onto the previous stubs hanging from your jacket collar. We each had a pretty long chain by the end of the season.

My favorite skiing buddy was my good friend Nancy Shlapper who lived one block up the hill from me. Her older brother was on the ski patrol, so one season we went with him every day of Christmas break, arriving early in the morning and staying through the last run. Our mission: Don’t freeze to death. Often, we could only do one run before heading back inside to be next to the fire.

We weren’t aiming for the finest form but for having a good time, and we particularly enjoyed the trails that snaked through the woods. Ski poles seemed a hassle to us, so one time, we found tall weeds with circular tops that we used instead. Later in life, I heard Nancy had changed her name to Nichole Lace Chalante, making all my last-name changes look rather lame. I was saddened to learn a few years ago that she had died of cancer.

We never skied with our parents. My dad would drop us off and then grudgingly pick us up at the end of the day. To my recollection, we skied a whole lot more than the We3 sang. Although my mother did give the sport a try one time. My parents had bought some skis for themselves that were insanely long and super heavy. They had been On Sale! But no one could possibly ski well on those boats.

I suspect my father was attempting to spare my mother the disaster of the rope tow on the bunny hill by taking her to the top of the mildest hill, Big Bear, by way of the t-bar. Maybe I had talked about being in tears, time and again, after falling on that stupid rope tow that burned holes through my cheap mittens. In any case, for the next four hours, my mother attempted to ski—in three and four-foot increments—down that hill. She never went out to Hardscrabble again.

The worst part about skiing in Northern Wisconsin in the mid-1970s, after the rope tow, was the cold. There was no such thing as “performance clothing” back then. And no one at home was helping out with the dressing-warm process. So I would wear two pairs of jeans, two pairs of tube socks, and a couple sweatshirts under my school coat, with a pair of mittens or gloves that were purchased, I kid you not, at the Holiday gas station.

The boys got involved with the ski team in high school and actually became very good skiers. We were recently reminiscing about their challenge of carrying a bundle of slalom poles under one arm while grabbing the rope tow with the other hand, managing to let go and cross over to the second rope midway up the hill without dropping the whole mess. The runs may have been short, but that was a blessing on the way up.

My parents were the kind of people who took frugal to new extremes, and my mother was always one to make almost anything before buying, especially if the price was steep. As such, the year the boys wanted ski pants for Christmas, she put her stitching skills to work and made them each a pair.

Jeff’s were green with a gold stripe down the side—go Packers!—and Pete’s were black with a red stripe—go…Peter! Because we were idiots, we skied even when it was well below zero, and while these may not have been the warmest pants ever, they were the best looking ones by far. For a time, the Thompson boys were styling on the slopes.

Walker: A Spiritual Memoir by Jill Loree

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