I grew up in a Norman Rockwell Christmas painting. Sounds strange I know, but I truly did. You see I lived in a small village on the banks of the St Lawrence River. That part of Ontario was always a reliably snowy wonderland over the holidays. It was never tough to feel Christmasy in such an idyllic setting. Of course, I suppose the fact that I was a grade schooler at the time and had none of the pressures of the season on my shoulders may have helped a tiny bit too.
One of the great pleasures of Christmas break was skating on the river on a patch of black ice that my father shoveled. I’ll never forget watching him skate while pushing a shovel to clear my ripply, black rink. My Dad always told me that kids who learned to skate on a frozen river were much better at it as they were able to deal with less than ideal conditions. I suppose he was making that part up, but it didn’t ever dawn on me that skating on a pristine, smooth surface would be preferable. How could you possibly enjoy dipping a candy cane in your hot chocolate gripped precariously in your wet woolen mittens if you were waiting indoors while the Zamboni cleared the rink?
It was a rule that an adult had to be present if I were to skate on the river, but cross-country skiing over the “back 40” was permissible without supervision. As much as I enjoyed the grown up feeling of being alone in the forest on those sparkling winter days, the Christmas day trek with all of my family was undoubtedly the most fun.
Of course the present opening portion of Christmas morning was thrilling but once all the wrapping had been cleared away and presents appropriately admired, we began to plan our day of cross-country skiing. My father would get the turkey into the oven to roast and my Mum would oversee the waxing of the skis. Dressed in many, rather unsophisticated and bulky layers, we crossed the three fields between our house and the golf course. It took about ten minutes, less if it was windy. It’s amazing how fast one can ski when the wind feels like razor blades on your skin.
Skiing in single file on a track that my Dad set, we covered most of the 18 holes stopping on the back 9 for a freezing cold peanut butter sandwich and hot chocolate from a thermos. The unmistakable scent of something slightly stronger in the thermos my parent’s shared. It’s likely a trick of a romantic girls memory, but I seem to remember singing carols as we skied.
Although we left the village in my early teens, my picture perfect Christmas memories have remained clear. What I realize as an adult is that the best gift my parents gave me during those Rockwell moments was to pass along the love of outdoor activity during the winter months… although the “Super Slider Sno Skates” were pretty amazing too. I loved those things! Does anyone know where to buy them?
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