Sometimes memories are connected to the strangest of things. It might be a smell, or a particular sound or something else entirely that whisks you back to a moment in time which will live with you forever. One such thing for me is snow, and seeing those first fluffy white crystals falling from the dark clouds above. I know most people love snow and it reminds them of snowball fights and building snowmen and frozen fingers. It reminds me of those things as well but also another more precious memory.
When I was growing up, things in Ireland were particularly tough. Interest rates on mortgages had reached as high as twenty percent, and a huge amount of people were out of work. My Dad had a good job in a factory, but when the government benefits ran out for the owners, they simply pulled out and left hundreds of people high and dry.
I was only small, six or perhaps seven, and although we never wanted for anything, it didn’t go unnoticed by me that things were tight. We had to sell our nice big house and move to a tiny old cottage a bit further out in the country. It was basic, to say the least. No mains water, no heating besides a range in the kitchen and there wasn't even a toilet, but that didn't matter to me. It was all one big mad adventure. The great thing about being small is you don't care how new the clothes you are wearing are, or if your shoes had an owner before you. The only thing you want is to be loved, to have fun and feel safe. I had all of those things in abundance. It's not so easy on the grownups. Now that I am one I know they always want to give the best they can to their family and when they can’t, it can hurt, lots. That time was very hard on my Dad in particular who was doing everything he could to keep bread on the table. For a while, he had no car and had to thumb or walk where ever he needed to go in search of work.
This particular year, Christmas was coming, and I can tell you we were as excited as any kids in the country, just dying to see what Santa would bring. By the time Christmas Eve rolled around I am sure me, my brother and my sister were testing every last nerve, our parents possessed as we counted down the seconds till the man in red landed. On Christmas Eve afternoon it happened. Snow!
Some of what happened next I remember and some my Mom told me.
As quickly as the snow began to land, my Dad vanished. Night fell, and he still hadn't returned. I remember going to bed half excited about Santa coming and half worried about where Dad had got to. When the morning came, which might have been the middle of the night because what kid can sleep late on Christmas morning, we found a huge timber sledge under the tree. It was big enough to take all three of us, it had a rope handle for pulling it at the front and tin runners on the bottom to make it fly down the snow-covered slopes. I can honestly say that no other group of kids got a toboggan in Ireland that Christmas. Considering how little snow there ever is in Ireland, it could well have been the one and only in existence.
What we didn't know right then was that my Dad had gone to our old house as soon as the snow began to stick. He might not have been able to buy us much, but he was a wizard with his hands. In our old shed, he had left some timber planks behind, and he spent that whole dark night building us a once in a lifetime gift to have on Christmas morning. I have no idea if he walked, thumbed or drove that night, but the romantic in me always had a vision of him trudging through the night, with snow falling all around him, dragging the sledge home for us.
Whenever I see snow that is the image that comes to my mind. I can honestly say that no children ever had better parents and no amount of fancy presents will ever dim the value of that sledge.