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Christmas 1961

Last night the weatherman said it would snow. I pushed away my cozy, warm quilt and ran to my bedroom window. Sure enough, a winter wonderland awaited. I quickly got dressed.

Downstairs, I hastily gobbled my hot porridge, against Mom’s advice to slow down. I was too excited!

I struggled into my leggings.They were tight, and the wool was itchy, but they would keep me warm for the adventure ahead. I pulled on my winter coat, and found the knitted red hat and mitts Grandma had made for me. Finally, I pulled on the dreaded brown, rubber boots over my shoes. I was ready.

I tore down the steps from the warm kitchen into a blast of cold air outside. My snow covered sled was propped against the house. I found  the reins and pulled it through the drifts along the side of our country road. My breaths were smoky plumes of air and when I breathed in, my nose felt all prickly inside. I could see neighbourhood kids up ahead. Bright dots of colour against the white of a winter day. I hollered to the others to wait for me and ran to greet them.

The hill was up ahead. As we laughed and plowed onward through the snow drifts, I hoped we would be the first on the hill, but the older kids had arrived ahead of us. The boys were hollering out, with their bellies to the ground, as they skimmed down the slope on flattened cardboard boxes. We stood and watched as one teenager tried to stand going down and flipped onto his back.

Now we would take turns on our sleds. I always felt a curious, nervous thrill as I pushed off to fly down the hill, wind slashing my cold cheeks. I lost balance and tumbled off halfway down, landing breathless on my side.

Other kids soon arrived and before long, the once smooth surface was trampled and flattened. An older girl in a white Eskimo jacket with a furry hood arrived, pulling a toboggan. I sat on my sled at the top of the hill and watched as her two friends arranged themselves behind her, hugging each other, ready for the push. They giggled as one of the teenage boys ran over and got them started. How they flew! The toboggan sheared over the snow bumps like a shiny wooden rocket. Even with three riders, they easily outdistanced all of us.

My fingers and toes were feeling numb, and I was hungry. It was time to go home. As we made our way back, my friend Audrey asked what was on my list for Santa. He would be coming down the chimney the following night. She laughed when I said I wanted a doll and some books. I loved my dolls, so that wasn’t a surprise. We were at the age of ten, where we wanted to believe in Santa Claus, but were afraid to admit our doubt.

When Christmas eve came, my little brother asked Daddy not to make a fire in the front room fireplace, as Santa wouldn’t come down a smoking chimney. I thought that was pretty bright for a six year old. Mom brought us warm, china mugs of hot chocolate and Playbox biscuits for a bedtime treat.  She asked for our Santa lists. At the last minute, I had added the much desired toboggan to the usual doll and books. I knew it was a lot to ask for, but I had this thought that if it actually appeared Christmas morning, I was good to believe for another year. Maybe even two.

I could hardly sleep. The excitement of the coming morning made me toss and turn. I decided I would think about doll names instead of the toboggan. Then I wouldn’t be disappointed in the morning. Valerie sounded beautiful, and I hoped she had hair I could style. I eventually drifted off.

Finally, morning came.  My little brother awakened me, asking if we could go downstairs to see what Santa left. It was still dark, so we crept across the hall to my parents’ bedroom. Mom got up when she heard our giggles and followed us downstairs. Daddy appeared behind her and put on the lights.

Santa had come. My brother squealed with delight to find his Rifleman gun under the tree. I noticed something propped up on the wall behind. Shiny, pale wood and red vinyl peeked through the branches. It couldn’t be!

Mom and Daddy pulled out a four seater toboggan! I was jumping up and down, gleefully clapping my hands.They laughed at my joyful antics as they carefully laid it on our living room floor. It was so long. The longest toboggan I had ever seen. I sat happily on the soft seating pad and held the nylon reins. My brother scrambled on behind me with a whoop. I couldn’t wait to call Audrey!

A short time later we stood at the brink of the hill. There were no other kids and the cold air was still. We giggled while trying to push off from the top of the slope. Suddenly with a quick jerk, we were tearing down the hill. I screamed and Audrey hugged me tighter as we flew. Snow sprayed into my face and by the time we came to a stop, and rolled off the toboggan, we were helpless with laughter.

I’ve never forgotten the pleasure of that Christmas. Years later, I happened to be driving down the road that led to that winter hill. I hardly recognized the area, built up as it was, those fields we played in long gone. But there was an open field and a clapboard house I remembered. I left my car and crunched through the snow. The hill seemed so much smaller. No bigger than a snow drift really. As soft flakes fell around me, I recalled the shouts and joyous laughter of my first toboggan ride so long ago.

From, “The Boomer Years, Reflections,” 2019, Judith Read

Published inFrom the Author