Recalling highs and lows of a child in winter

Playing outside with siblings was fun, but struggling into a snowsuit could prompt a kid to rethink the entire endeavour

As a preschooler during the winter, the cold wasn’t as much of a misery as getting all bundled up to go outside.

Mom used her treadle sewing machine to make a snowsuit for me out of someone’s cast-off coat and the imitation fur had a stiff, canvas-type backing that scratched me to pieces.

“Do you want to go outside to play?”

I could hear my big brother and sister having barrels of fun on the hill behind our house, but if I wanted to join them, I’d have to struggle into that scratchy snowsuit.

Mom insisted on bundling me up in woollen sweaters, two pairs of coarse brown stockings, and at least three pairs of socks. Over all of that came the snowsuit. Then she’d wind my long braids around my neck for a scarf, put on my toque and pull my hood up over that. Two pair of mittens later, I was ready to go.

By that time, my sister and brother were coming inside to do their homework.

I was only about five and it was a lonely feeling out on a hill at sunset, with just my dog for company. The trees cast long shadows across the gully. A lone wolf howled in the distance. There was no one to rescue me when my sled went crooked and ended up in a snowdrift.

My dog Tubby insisted on sitting in front of me instead of behind me as we rode down the hill together. When we came to a stop at the bottom, he would jump off and bound away after an imaginary rabbit, leaving me to drag that heavy sled up that high hill all by myself.

Was there no justice in the world?

Succumbing to mixed feelings of self-pity, loneliness and painfully cold toes, I trudged toward the house, tired and disappointed with the day’s developments.

After a brisk sweeping with the corn broom to remove the snow caked to my scratchy snowsuit, Mom peeled me down, layer after layer of clothing, until I felt as free as a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, a butterfly that was intent on learning how to ski, of all things.

Indeed, a few years later I was trying my wings at the Snow Valley Ski Resort a scant three kilometres west of our farm. Supple little poplar trees poked up through the deep snowdrifts on either side of the runs.

At first, I just inched down the hill hanging on from poplar to poplar. If I fell down, it was no big deal, just a lot of thrashing around in the deep snow trying to locate my skis.

And skis were at a premium. Mine were homemade, but despite being steamed for 10 days in the copper boiler on top of the kitchen stove, they were still reluctant to turn up at the tips. They often poked straight into a snowdrift, bringing me to a very sudden and undignified stop. The skis were secured to my overshoes by pieces of harness leather that usually came loose whenever I fell down, so I had to make a great lunge to grab my skis before they finished the course without me. If they slipped away and beat me to the bottom, I’d have to pick up my poles and my dignity and walk down the hill to claim them.

As I made my descent, all the city slickers whizzed by in their fancy equipment, shouting rude remarks because I was ruining the run by walking down it in my buckle overshoes.

Going up the slope was not much better.

The tow rope was always too high for me to reach. Even if I’d been taller, it was a real stretch in those bulky winter clothes to slip the loops of my ski poles over my wrist, grab the tow rope with my right hand, then reach around and hold onto the rope with the other hand behind my back. Very tricky, especially when the rope was in perpetual motion.

The minute I made a grab for it, I was thrown off balance, my skis crossed and I nose-dived into a drift.

The sight of my crumpled form lying in the snow usually brought the ski patrols at top speed and I was often sorely tempted to fake injury just for a ride on their toboggan and a rest in their first aid hut.

But no, I remained stoic. Despite that frustrating tow rope nearly giving me whiplash on numerous occasions, I not only learned how to take it all the way up to the top of the hill but also how to ski all the way down — and just in time.

The ski resort closed the following year. As the Good Book says, “Childhood and the prime of life are fleeting.” Ecclesiastes 11:10

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