Exhuming Winter Memories
These days during the interesting times in which we find ourselves, I’m exhuming positive memories to remind me that there have been better times. How, you ask? I rented a metaphorical Bobcat with a sturdy blade, drove carefully up the gentlest side slope of that mountain of memories, and began removing the metres of negative memories, the ones the mind is constantly fetching to the surface to show me. Instead of burying those difficult memories — or better yet, burning them — for some reason, I keep them close to me, near the top of the heap as if they are the most important. Yeah, right.
Listen to me read this post:
When we went to Mexico recently, several folks commented, “Getting away from winter?” This made me realize something about myself. I actually like winter! Not driving on icy roads that can kill me or driving in temperatures that can kill me. Besides the kill-y driving conditions, there’s lots to love about winter in Alberta.
So with my rented Bobcat I kept on digging through the memory layers which hold sadness, self-loathing, and dread, until I got to the good stuff that’s been misplaced for so long, those moments of joy that I must’ve experienced somewhere along the way, and especially in winter.
After much scraping and when the mountain of memories was nearly leveled, I could just begin to find some of those happy winter memories, dusty and untouched, but still intact. That’s the great thing about frozen winter memories: they stay preserved longer.
Artifact 1: Gas Fumes and Deep Snow
The memory arrives as a heady scent first, the smell of gasoline fumes — one of my childhood favourites! Next comes the feeling of those wooden toboggan boards beneath where I sit in my orange snowsuit at the front of the sled, the eldest child’s place of privilege, the best place to hold on tight. My brothers are behind me on the sled, holding on to me and each other.
The toboggan is tied behind the snowmobile by a length of rope. My mom’s father is driving. He wears a navy blue snowsuit, the same one he wears when doing his farm work. He’s towing us by a length of rope and when he cranks the snowmobile’s front skis hard to the left, the toboggan tips and all three of us end up in the deep soft snow. He stands while driving, stops now and turns around to laugh. We kids don’t mind. We right the overturned toboggan and hop on even though we know what’s coming to us.
Grandpa was a good driver. When he had a heart attack in 1986 while driving school bus, he finished his route and drove the bus the hour or so on gravel roads to the Fairview Hospital where he died.
Artifact 2: A Perfect Skate
When I was a kid my dad bought and subdivided some land north of town into acreage lots. We kept one of these for our family to use while the other lots were selling. We grew a potato patch there in the summers for a few years and then one snow-less day in the early winter, Mom took us and the neighbour’s family skating on the frozen slough. In the warmer months, thick clumps of red willows grow in the slough water. And now that same water forms perfectly smooth ice paths for us to follow in and around the trees. We circle for hours, calling out and flitting like sparrows, hiding from and discovering each other. We kids skate until our frozen feet ache, and then I remember us warming up by a bonfire but this may not be true. What is true, though, is that skating outdoors on natural ice is magical and provides a perfect memory of winter.
Artifact 3: Hayrides
I’ve been on so many awesome hayrides over the years. I love the memory of the scent of alfalfa in the hay, the itch of it under my woolen mittens, and the warmth of it under my body.
The best hayride I went on was an authentic working hayride, not for fun (although it was). An old neighbour from several lifetimes ago and in the early 1990s, still fed hay to his cattle in the wintertime using a sleigh and a team of French Canadian horses. No factory farming here.
He invites us to come with him to feed cattle so we can experience it and so he can have company. When we arrive, the old bachelor already has the black team harnessed to the sleigh. I use a pitchfork to dig into the hay and climb my way to the top. The men stand at the front of the sleigh and drive the team. I lie on top of that haystack under the cobalt winter sky and listen to the creak of the sleigh and the swooshing sound that sleigh runners make gliding over snow-packed tracks. I listen to the horses snort and to the men speaking gently to them and to each other as I watch the tree branches move overhead. Where the trail is protected by trees, there is not a breath of a breeze and yet frost drifts down softly from the poplars as we pass by.
That’s another perfect artifact from winter exhumed and laid out where I can see it. I won’t let this one get buried again.
There’s a lot to love about winter and there are a lot of winter memories to love, as well. In these days when we’re all looking for warmth and comfort, it’s encouraging to do a little digging and to bring up those good memories. I hope this season gives you the chance to exhume some sweet winter memories of your own.
Take care and thanks for spending some time with me today. – Lori