52: A Snowmobile Christmas

52: A Snowmobile Christmas

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

A Snowmobile Christmas

Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.

~Washington Irving

“Wow! Oh, wow!” my brother, Doug, exclaimed.

“What is it?” When he didn’t answer, I rushed to join him at the window.

As I approached he turned, his eyes wide, his open mouth formed in a big O. In the next instant he was whooping and bouncing around like a little kid instead of a thirteen-year-old. Then I saw the cause.

Dad was exiting the pickup, back from a trip into Edmonton for parts, or so we thought. On the back of the truck was a brand new, fire engine red snowmobile! Dad had a huge grin on his face. We lost no time in yanking on boots, hats and coats as we ran outside.

“Merry Christmas!” Dad’s voice boomed. “This is your present this year so there won’t be anything else.”

A snowmobile was an expensive toy, purely for fun, and we both understood that. It was a Massey Ferguson Ski-Whiz, small by some standards but built to outlast the others. Doug could hardly wait to go for a ride. Given that it was a bright sunny day, he and my dad had it unloaded, fuelled and fired up in no time. I was glad I had the hood of my winter coat firmly in place to block out some of the noise. My brother talked a mile-a-minute the entire time they were readying the machine.

“Now remember, we have to take it easy,” Dad stressed. Then in the next instant he waved my brother on while he took up the front position for the initial ride.

“Your turn next!” they yelled in unison, as Dad eased the throttle from idle to give them power.

I watched as they rode over the packed, manure-clumped yard, and through the open gateway leading to a hayfield. It wasn’t a warm wait but in no time they were back; this time my brother was driving.

“Come on!” Doug called and I wasted no time in replacing Dad.

Boy, was it cold! In the future I would wear a lot more clothes, but for the initiation ride, I didn’t care. There was a mantle of snow over everything, just like on a Christmas card.

Over the course of the next couple of days, more snow fell but the novelty of the snow machine hadn’t worn off yet. Then, on Christmas Eve, the wind started blowing, fiercely.

“I hope this doesn’t keep up too long,” Dad said with worry at the supper table. “The roads will be drifting.”

“What’ll happen if the grandpas and grandmas can’t get through?” I wailed.

“Well, then I guess it will just be us for Christmas dinner,” Mom said.

“What will they eat?” Doug added his concern.

“They won’t starve,” Mom replied. “They just won’t have turkey.”

For us, a turkey dinner was a rare treat reserved for Christmas and New Year’s. Everyone looked forward to arguing over who would get the neck and the giblets, and the rich gravy made from turkey drippings was equally coveted, slathered on with total disregard for its fattening qualities. After all, we didn’t get to indulge in the treat often.

We went to bed to the eerie howl of the wind. Christmas Day dawned still and bright; the snow sparkled. Huge drifts were now piled in our yard and on the driveway.

We could see that the two sets of grandparents would not be coming for Christmas dinner.

The turkey was thawed, the Christmas pudding made, and all the other food ready to cook. Mom had to proceed, with or without guests.

We hoped the roads would be cleared for Boxing Day. We would try then to get together for leftovers.

“The Crosswhites won’t be able to get out either,” Mom said with concern for our nearest neighbours, an elderly couple who planned to celebrate with their own family.

“Too bad they can’t come,” I said.

Not one to miss an opportunity to ride our newest toy, my brother announced brightly, “I can get them with the Ski-Whiz. It’s only a mile to their place.”

“You’ll have to bring them over one at a time,” Dad pointed out.

Over the phone, Mom was assuring Agnes that it was perfectly safe.

Doug set out at eleven o’clock. We had no snowmobile suits back then, so he wore long underwear, two pairs of pants, shirt, sweater and a heavy coat. His boots had felt liners. After donning a thick winter cap with earflaps, he tied a scarf around his face, pulled on leather chore mitts with another pair of knit mitts inside for liners, and he was off. It seemed like no time at all before he returned with Agnes, well bundled up and tucked in behind him. After reassurances at the Crosswhite home, she’d reluctantly climbed on, fearing for her life. Now, her cheeks were rosy and her eyes bright with excitement.

“Doug drove very nicely and it was kind of fun,” she confided after my brother left to collect her husband. “We just rode along on top of the drifts, up and down, up and down,” she said, giggling as she gave us a demonstration.

Her husband, Shorty, was equally impressed with the ride.

“It smells wonderful in here!” he declared of the aroma of roasting turkey wafting out the kitchen door and into the porch where he was pulling off his outer clothing. “I’m certainly glad you called because there wasn’t a thing to eat in our place! We’d cleaned everything up thinking we’d be gone for a few days.”

And so we sat down to a table heavily laden with the Christmas Day feast. The visit was short since chore time came early in winter, and so did the end of daylight. The trips back were uneventful and no one got cold. Just getting in and out of all those clothes made for a warm start!

Because we milked cows, the snow plow was obliged to come down our road before the day was over. Dad cleared our driveway with the tractor, and the milk truck was able to get to us by ten that night. By dairy regulation, all producers must have a tank large enough to hold up to two extra milkings. We would have been pushing those limits so we were happy to hear the truck arrive in the night.

All four grandparents arrived on Boxing Day without incident and we had a repeat of Christmas. We opened gifts and pulled Chinese firecrackers, producing a bang of sound and a smell of sulphur. It was a memorable Christmas, and it turned out that our gift was way more useful than a toy!

~Lori M. Feldberg

Wetaskiwin, Alberta

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