Toboggan, (taken from the Webster Merriam Dictionary)
to·bog·gan \ tə-ˈbä-gən \
Definition of toboggan
1 : a long flat-bottomed light sled made usually of thin boards curved up at one end with usually low handrails at the sides
2 : a downward course or a sharp decline
In our traditional trek to the ornament store with Christmas fast approaching, there, hanging on a display was a miniature toboggan. It even had a red padded seat like the one my family owned and treasured. I grabbed for the ornament and would not let it out of my grasp until we made our way to the check-out counter. My husband asked, “who is the toboggan for”? “Me”, I replied.
Once home, I removed the ornament from the bag and inspected it front and back. Next, I placed it on the Christmas tree in it’s rightful place. What fond memories I have of our old family toboggan; even though it had to be the single most dangerous sledding equipment of our era that could cause multiple casualties at one time. The exception would be children riding an inverted car hood down a steep hillside. Back then, it was pure fun. I have to wonder how many children will have the experiences that I did, on my family toboggan?
In the outskirts of my home town in northeast Pennsylvania you could travel in any direction to find a “hill” on which to play. It was more like a summit that we looked for and there were plenty all along the hills of the Endless Mountain Chain. We had a favorite place where the top of the hill wrapped around like an amphitheater and all downhill activity ended up in the same pocket of lower ground with a creek at the bottom. The creek was more like a little stream, the headwaters or beginnings of a creek. None-the-less, it was usually wet with snow melt. The friendly farmer always gave us permission to use the hill.
After bundling up at home for a day of wintry fun with our toboggan strapped to the roof of the old nine-seater station wagon, off we went. Usually with a caravan of 2 or 3 cars following us with friends and family. We also would pack ski’s, sleds and metal snow discs. It was either a good day for sledding or for discs but usually not both. It seemingly was always a good day for toboggan’s, probably because of the sure weight. Ours was only a 4 or 5 seater. As kids we would envy the 6-seater model!
First run of the day would consist of deciding who would go on the maiden voyage. It was the responsibility of the person in the front to shout commands as they steered us to the bottom of the hill. If they said lean to the left, you had better do it. But it they shouted lean hard to the left, by gosh, your life depended on it! The people behind the front position were helpless and riding blind. Except for the end seat. The end person always had that unique opportunity to bale off before the bottom of the hill.
The way the seating worked was like this: The lead person got on and scrunched their legs under the curved front of the toboggan with legs crisscrossed. If I recall correctly, you wanted someone who was lighter weight but experienced. The next two people sat directly behind in row. The second person wrapped their feet around the person in front of them. This was not an easy task with bulky snow clothes and boots. The next person wrapped their legs around the person in front of them and the same with the fourth and fifth person. It was the duty of each person to not only hang on to the ropes that ran along the sides of the toboggan but to use their arms to secure the legs of the person who were sitting behind them. All in all, it created a human chain of sorts.
Once all were positioned and ready, a push off and down you went! Sometimes the toboggan pushed the snow creating a white out or tunneling snow. All you could see would be a tube of snow surrounding everyone. If the snow was packed and firmer, the speed of the vessel was increased two-fold. Remember the creek like stream I mentioned earlier in the story? Well, the object of course was to miss it entirely. No one really wanted a creek at the bottom of a hill, but it’s rare to find a hill that doesn’t have a little stream at the bottom. It’s sort of a package deal.
On our toboggan run, we had three choices. Stop before the stream, end up in the stream, or on an incredibly good day, jump the stream! Which we actually did successfully several times. Once you jumped the creek, you had to find your way back across without getting too wet and you had a longer climb back to the top of the hill. Back in my toboggan days, we had a miniature poodle who had the heart of a Saint Bernard. Every time the toboggan ran, she was in hot pursuit behind it with her ears flying in the wind as she chased us.
One particular day, we all boarded the toboggan, ready for a run. It was a fast day on the slope and we were having a great time. Then it happened. The inevitable. Half way down the hill, someone in the middle of the chain let a boot slip. Not a problem you are thinking? The leg acting similar to a catapult, stuck into the snow which picked up the toboggan including everyone on board and threw us off. This was at speed, mind you. It is a memory I shall never forget as we were all tossed in the air in slow motion somersaulting down onto the snow. Then there was silence. Only a few muffled moans and groans and the family members at the top of the hill converged on the scene. A spectacular crash, even from the view of the hilltop. We survived to tell the tale. The person who catapulted the toboggan had a pretty sore leg, but it was a memory I will never forget. At least we lived to tell the tale! I can still picture in my mind, bodies sailing through the air.
A similar story was related to me by my husband who grew up in Michigan. His family was out tobogganing one afternoon on their deluxe 6-seater! They too had the obstacle avoidance of the creek at the bottom of the hill to contend with, but with one difference; a small walking bridge traversed the creek. On this particular day, the toboggan was loaded with family which included Ron and his parents. Ron was all of 4 or 5 years old and was instructed to “hold on tight to the ropes and do not let go”. At some point on the journey down the slope the decision was made for everyone to bale out! All did but Ron. The little tike was still clenching the ropes and heading straight for the bridge with his parents in hot pursuit, yelling as they ran. It’s very possible that day on the snow-covered slope, a guardian angel was there to help guide that toboggan as it safely crossed the bridge with not even the slightest exchange of paint on either one.
It’s amazing what wonderful memories a small Christmas ornament can make. Our toboggan ornament sits on our tree with at least 50 other ornaments and each one has a story to tell, but I doubt any as exciting or as fun as the toboggan.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a New Year full of peace, prosperity and enjoyment, with at least a little excitement!!