December 17, 2009

A Child's Christmas in the Kootenays

Until I was sixteen my family did not own a car (Believe me, in this part of the world, that is a rare thing). In my hometown we could walk everywhere, and when that was out of the question, we could take the bus. My mother took a taxi home every Friday afternoon with the weekly grocery shopping. I know my parents were quite happy to do without the costs of maintaining a vehicle; Mom once told me the choice had been between giving her children music and dance lessons, soccer fees and good shoes, and having a car. For her and Dad, the choice was simple: no car.

Our house was two streets up the hill from downtown. There was a series of staircases which we climbed from downtown to our street. We counted the stairs once, but I can't remember the number. In summer we would run up and down those stairs at least once a day, and in winter, unless someone shoveled them, the stairs would fill with snow and with use, become a treacherous, icy slide. One would have to hold on tightly to the railing and just let the feet go.

I was not particularly athletic, but I was very fit. I remember in grade six and seven I was one of three people in my school to win the excellence award for the Canada Fitness Program. Everyone I knew was suprised, especially me. Looking back now, I can understand how I was so fit. Just north of our house was an extremely steep road called Cedar Street. Occasionally in winter the city would close Cedar Street, and everyone in the neighbourhood would gather to toboggan down it. If we wanted to we could slide all the way down to the main street, two long blocks down, but of course, we would have to hike all the way back up. In summer, my parents would take us hiking up to Pulpit Rock on Elephant Mountain, or up behind the university to pick huckleberries in the heat. I walked to piano lessons, ballet lessons, to school and back, to friends' houses, to church, downtown, to the park, the swimming pool, to babysitting jobs and back home in the dark, in the middle of the road to avoid the shadows and the skunks.

One Christmas when I was just old enough to be included in such an adventure, my mom took all six of us for a walk after supper. With Crazy Carpets in tow, we were heading for the junior high school to go sledding. The snow had fallen all day long and everything was covered in ten inches of soft, muffling powder. The Christmas lights on the houses winked and glowed through the snow and everything was quiet and still. My brothers and sisters and I talked and laughed and sang carols, and sometimes we were just quiet, taking in the beauty surrounding us in its fluffy white blanket; it seemed like we were the only people in the world. Something not very happy had happened earlier at home, maybe an argument, but it didn't matter anymore out in the snow. I don't remember what I got for Christmas that year, but I do know what a gift it was to have a big noisy family to love and to able to share that night with them, out in the deep, deep snow.

When I had our first son, Ian, my mom advised me to go for a walk with him every day, no matter what. Outside the four walls of our apartment, Ian and I would sail along the sidewalks, breathing in the fresh air, and we would both be happier. When I had our second son, Galen, we moved to a small ski town in the East Kootenays of B.C. I would pull the boys in a little sled in winter up the long path to the building where we met with other moms and kids to play and talk. The other moms thought I was a bit crazy, but I loved trudging in the snow up the hill between the skeletons of trees. I always arrived revived and clear headed, and I shed baby pounds in the bargain.

Walking is built into me. It is a compulsion and I cannot go without it for long. I now live in a small town in the flats of the Fraser Valley where I can go for long rambles down farm roads with sweeping views leading the eye across huge fields and up the craggy steel blue faces of the coastal ranges, but my waistline and I sure miss those Kootenay hills.

Merry Christmas to you and yours. I hope you find some time for walking in your respective wonderland during the Holly-days, and for reading (or listening to) Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales; for no one puts it better than he.


P.S. The photo is really of my hometown in winter and is from GothPhil on Flickr.


  1. Oh I am breathing heavy just thinking about it! What fun! I wish my mother had given me that advice after my first was born.

    I suppose it is not too late. My three travel pretty easily. I have a double stroller and the two big boys take turns riding and walking.

    Thank you for the lovely and nostalgic picture.

  2. I've looked up the area in the Google earth. Holy WOW, those mountains are really something. But Hot Springs, who'ld a thunk. But then I suppose Mt St Helens down the road a bit might have given me a hint.
    But I do see what you mean about the lack of a Car. Still, it would have been much worse to lack a car where you did not have the mountains to keep the eye travelling. For instance I know people from Red Deer and that would not suit me at all.
    Have a happy Christmas.

  3. Tracey: Thanks! No, it's never too late - your kids are still little. And that's great they travel so well. Mine were fine as long as we kept moving (though I did have them well used to coffee shops!)

    Vince: We have a LOT of hotsprings in BC. My husband works for a resort that is famous for its hot spring-fed pools.
    Red Deer doesn't suit us either!

  4. It was lovely taking a walk with you, and you are so very right that walks do make the world a far better place. I had a nice walk today with my doggie and was thinking just that. A very Merry Christmas to you and yours, and thanks for the Dylan Thomas suggestion.
    PS Your childhood sound wonderful. Lucky you!

  5. Wow! A fellow Canadian! What great memories you have and wasn't that just the greatest advice from your mom to walk with your children. You live in a beautiful area, so scenic. And what a sacrifice your parents made going without that car so you could all enjoy the benefits of scheduled activities after school.

    BTW, I remember those crazy carpets! It's a wonder we didn't end up in the hospital after riding one of those things down a hill, they went like the devil!!!

  6. Barbara: I wish I had a doggie to walk, too! What kind is she/he? I did have a good childhood, all things considered, though I spent some time wishing we were more 'normal'! I'm now so grateful for the way I grew up, and that's why I write so much about it!

    M.N.Mom: Great to see your face on here! I think some of us did end up in the hospital on account of those crazy carpets!

  7. That is a beautiful picture of your hometown. You have reminded me that I need to get outside more...on a daily basis.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!