57: The Christmas Toboggan

57: The Christmas Toboggan

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

The Christmas Toboggan

Canada may be cold between November and March but that doesn’t mean we Canadians stay indoors.

~Jane McLean

The toboggan had been a Christmas present to our children. Living in Canada usually guaranteed a good pile of snow in the parking lot of our family business, and the toboggan was just the thing to turn the monstrous mound into a fun playground. Each winter we hauled that toboggan out of storage and dragged it to the hill, or to the local golf course, or even just for a walk while our three little girls rode along buried in layers of snow wear.

As time passed and our girls grew, the toboggan’s short length became a detriment. The three of them could no longer fit, and faster, plastic sleds had become more popular. Every time I stepped into our barn to feed our horses I would spy the toboggan propped against the wall — abandoned. Perhaps I could find some use for it.

I had begun training our horses to harness. My sister had lent me her antique buggy and I thought it would be fun to teach my saddle horses to become carriage horses. That summer was filled with fun buggy rides down backcountry roads with my family. As autumn approached, I wondered if I could adapt the toboggan to become our winter chariot.

The toboggan would need cleaning and modifying. Through the fall rains, I worked to attach a piece of two-by-four wood to the inside curve at the front of the toboggan. My plan was to fasten the traces to this piece and hopefully have some fun moments pulling our daughters around the fields on our new sleigh.

Snow settled over our country property, bringing with it all kinds of potential. I harnessed our small mare, Lady, and called out. “Giddup.” She couldn’t budge the toboggan. It was stuck in the snow.

No problem, I thought to myself. I’ll just harness Jess beside her. The three-year-old gelding was her colt and they worked well together. But I forgot to put the strap that keeps their heads together onto their bridles. So when they tried going in opposite directions, resulting in a mad dash across the field, the toboggan ended up flap-ping in the wind like a rain-soaked kite.

I gathered the horses, installed the strap that kept their heads together, and went for the first ride around our field. I was elated that our short toboggan had transformed beautifully into a snow chariot. My children were quick to see the potential for fun, and a second toboggan was tied on behind. The horses settled into the task and the afternoon air was soon filled with laughter as we looped around the fields.

After that, each winter the toboggans and the harnesses were pulled out, and we aimed for at least one day of sledding old-fashioned style. Then our children became teens with agendas of their own and, one winter, after the toboggans went back into the barn with the harnesses, they stayed there.

The girls grew up and moved out. Marriage and grandchildren followed. Life happened. Cancer claimed my parents, and some of the laughter went out of our lives. Christmases came and went without the joy that had filled our home when our girls lived there and my parents shared the season with us. Christmas had stopped feeling like Christmas. I prayed for a solution.

I wasn’t alone in feeling that something was missing. As we were preparing for Christmas 2013, my middle daughter asked about me harnessing up a horse and taking the kids for a ride.

“It would be a lot of fun for the kids to have a chance to experience what we did when we were kids,” she explained.

Her words triggered an idea. Could this be the answer to my prayer? Why not get that smaller toboggan out again? Our latest horse, Doc, was more than able to handle the weight of a loaded toboggan. I searched the shed for the harness. I checked it for worn straps, cleaned and repaired it. I checked the toboggan, tightening the screws that held each board in place.

Our family Christmas was suddenly filled with laughter and anticipation. The skies had cooperated by dumping another couple of inches of snow across the landscape. I waded my way to the barn to groom Doc and harness him up. Throwing extra hay in his stall, I left him to enjoy a last snack while I hauled the toboggan out into the snow. Seven of our eight grandchildren wiggled into their snow-suits and waddled out to the driveway. I thought about their mothers doing the same thing, excitement on their rosy faces.

I led Doc from the barn and clipped the traces into place. Standing by his head, lead strap in hand, I called to my daughters. “Okay, one adult, the rest children.” My oldest daughter settled onto the back of the sled and her four children piled on top of her. We laughed as Doc and I broke trail through the stands of spruce and pines. We wove around snowdrifts and across the cornfield. Snippets of childish laughter were caught by the slight breeze and carried to my ears. We rounded the last curve and came to a stop on the driveway where one load of happy passengers rolled off into the snow, and another load climbed aboard. Around and around we went and I couldn’t help but think of my parents who had watched as their grandchildren had ridden this same toboggan behind a team of horses.

The afternoon drew to a close after all participating family members had a turn or two on the toboggan. Doc was returned to his stall and his hay. The toboggan was returned to its place against the barn wall. The harness was hung in the tack room. We all trundled back to the house for our traditional Christmas turkey dinner. The talk that evening was filled with the events of the day. I sat back, content, and listened as joy filled the room. What we had purchased, those many years ago, as a simple Christmas present for three little girls had now become a tool in God’s hand to return joy to our house. The old, faded toboggan had become part of our family Christmas tradition.

~Donna Fawcett

St. Marys, Ontario

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