The Gully and the toboggan hill

In the winter, the neighbourhood kids would congregate at the top of the hill in the gully behind our house to go tobagganing. It was the biggest and most challenging hill, to us it was Mount Everest, therefore something to be conquered. In our minds was the best hill ever!
We would scramble up the icy slope with toboggan in tow, lucky to make it up the first time without sliding back down. Once in place, two or three and sometimes four kids would pile on a toboggan made for two. We put  our mittened knuckles to the ground and in unison,  the riders of the hill would rock the toboggan and  joyously yell out, “with a one ana two and a thrrrreeeee”. On that call we would launch the toboggan and with every count hang momentarily off the edge of the precipice, lingering suspense fully, not seeing what was below the curl of the rocket toboggan.
It was like falling off a cliff. The slide down would make even the quietest kid squeal with laughter. It was a guttural laugh born of an anticipatory fear while knowing full well there was no danger. The ride ultimately ended with a fresh whoosh and a healthy dusting  Christmas card snow,  Christmas card snow is the kind of snow that sparkles on a moonlit night. It  makes an adult pause and remember how  as a child one use to marvel at it’s twinkle. That was of course,  right before falling backwards into a downy snowy poof to make a snow angel.
On the cold days of winter, the water at the bottom of the gully would freeze and make a magnificent strip of patchy glassy ice that even Sonja Hennie would love. When we weren’t tobogganing we darted around   on the ice believing we were  Olympic figure skaters or NHL hockey players.
What I remember most about skating in the gully is  sitting on the side of the hill to don my skates with my bestie friend and neighbour Helena. The trick was not getting any snow on your socks, cause then your feet would get cold real super-fast.
Helena and I would skate until our feet were numb and red. We were so oblivious to the cold, that chill blains would set in.
What are chill blains? Well to anyone who hasn’t lived in the snowbelt, chill blains occur when cold skin heats up again, and red welts become itchy and burn with the perpetual need to scratch.  It’s only relieved when you can finally leave them alone. Chill blains were the battle scars of the winter wonderlands born from the creation of many a snowman families. They were often built in a space where time was forgotten..
Skating in the gully was unlike any other life experience.  On one exceptionally windy day,  Helena and I discovered, that all we had to do was stand with our arms folded and allow the wind to catch in the skirt of our coats. The wind picked us up and  pushed our light weight bodies all the way down the corridor of lumpy bumpy ice. It jarred  our bones only in a way that is memorable to a child who was never afraid to shovel snow off a remote pond or to feel the ripples of frozen water etched by the wind, rumble beneath their feet.
In no time at all,  our blades began picking up speed and our bodies travelled  at a breakneck speed until we got to the end of the gully. It was the best ride ever! We would turn around to face the fierce wind and  skate with all our might to get back to where we started only to do it all over again. Oh, to feel the strength of the wind and to move such a distance, at such a speed,  without having to work hard at all. The backyard gully was a marvelous place for us kids to escape to.
Over the winter we abused the hill with our toboggans until the grass was exposed. In the summer with our bathing suits on, we would wade through the long grasses of our back yard sanctuary to make magical hiding places. We  plucked abundant wildflowers and graced our arms with wedding bouquets.  Our damp towels became  bridal veils and we imagined one day our prince would come while we dreamed of winter past.
It’s been fifty years or so since I  glanced the side of that hill with a toboggan and sadly the gully has since been filled in.  Now it’s only a large ditch where people enjoy walking their dogs. Kids don’t play back there like they used to, maybe because the backyards all have fences, either way, the memory of that time stays with me
If I close my eyes or see an old fashioned Christmas card, I can  imagine myself on that toboggan or on those skates so vividly, that it makes me smile and for a moment, I feel young again. Although I long for those days, I am so grateful for the memories and my dear childhood friends, especially my life time friend Helena.


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