Snowmobile Memories (Gerry Balchuinas)
Published on Saturday, December 21, 2013 in Guest Columns, News & Updates, Vintage
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I open up the closet and reach in. Lurking in the back of the closet, there it is. I slowly reach past the jeans that have long since been too small for me – but I leave them on the hanger – in hopes that one day, with God’s help, they will fit again.

I put my hand into the dark closet slowly, thinking that this could be a setting for a Stephen King novel. I grasp the hanger with my hand and slowly pull it out. It stretches from the wooden hanger to the ground and it is probably the most expensive thing in my closet, and in yours, too. Yes, it is my snowmobile suit. All fresh and clean waiting to keep me warm on those long rides to come.

Where will my suit take me this year? Will it be to Maine, which I love so much, or my very favorite place, Quebec? What it has in store for me only time will tell. I reach in the pocket and find a shiny quarter, which is an unusual site, for I always empty my pockets of all loose change into the groomer jars at the local places when I ride. I tuck it back in the coat pocket so I can put it in a groomer jar where it belongs this winter.

My nephew Cody looks at me with a twinkle in his eye, watching his uncle pull out his best suit of clothes. “Can I wear that?” he says, pointing to the helmet on the shelf above. “Sure,” I say, and he puts on my helmet that probably costs more than my Dad’s first car, and runs around my house making noises like a sled. Then he comes back and says “Uncle Gerry, what’s the money for?” I reach back in and hand him the quarter. “Thanks,” he says, and off he runs with a fresh shiny quarter and a 3X helmet, looking like a bobble head doll-four years old, now rich, with a cool helmet on, and not a care in the world.

I guess the jar will have to get some foldable money instead of jingling money when I head up.

When I was a boy, the scene was much, much different. Oh, I still snowmobiled, but the suit was different. We would all get up and Mom would have a big breakfast waiting for us; bacon, eggs, toast with cinnamon and sugar, and a milk or OJ. I can still hear the bacon frying in the cast iron skillet as Dad sat with his slippers on, sipping his coffee.

snowmobile vintage memories

Over to the back closet and Mom would pull out the box of hand-knitted scarves and mittens. We would all shuck off our pajamas and slide into our long johns. I had a pair of full length ones just like “Uncle Jesse” wore on the Dukes of Hazzard-complete with the flap in the back. I never mastered that and had to opt to a full clothing removal when the time arose. After a flannel shirt and a pair of corduroys, it was into a full snowmobile suit. Then we threw on a knitted hat and knitted mittens.

Out the door we would go, our oldest brother Dave would get all the sleds running. He was way bigger than all of us, but only a year older than me. Off we would go, down back on our Ski-Doo Elans. We would ride them ‘til the ground was brown, only stopping to drive in the barn for a quick carburetor repair or a tank of gas. We would fly on those old Elans and had a blast. Then we would see Mom standing on the back porch signaling us in for lunch.

“Take off your suits and put them on the wooden drying rack, then go wash your hands,” she would say. The three of us rosy-cheeked kids would run to the bathroom and wash up, and then race to the kitchen table.

My little brother Steve was sitting in his wooden booster seat at he end of the table. Mom had lunch all ready and the aroma was filling the room. Chicken noodle soup with saltine crackers, grilled cheese and tater puffs. Wash it all down with hot chocolate with a spoonful of marshmallow fluff on top… with the spoon sticking out of the mug. This was not that pouch style of hot chocolate, this was MOM’S hot chocolate made with real Hershey’s from the brown can. If you have never had it this way, you don’t know what you are missing.

Afterwards, she would bundle us all up again and out we would go with her yelling, “Your little brother is going to be napping, so stay out back with the snowmobiles.” “’kay’ Mom,” and off we went. All afternoon we would play outside. After all, we only had three TV channels and only stupid soap operas were on in the afternoon and it was still three days to Sunday night when the Wonderful World of Disney was to come on. Yup, a show with no adult overtones, no swearing and everyone was fully dressed. Seems hard to believe but it is true.

We would look to the house to see Mom on the back porch again later, and we new the day was done for us outside. In we would go after spending most of the day out in the snow either riding or sliding. Mom would set us down and we would watch a little Channel 2 with my little brother before supper. Mom always made the best suppers. Just what any kid needs after a long day of play out in the snow.

Whether it was riding, sledding or shoveling, the cold creates an appetite. Mom could have made hot floor dirt and my older brother and I would have loved it, but my little brother… that is another story.

After a good hot supper from Mom it was off to the tub and then a little TV and then to bed. Oh what a day I had! I lay in bed anticipating the snow that Don Kent forecasted earlier when I watched the news sitting between my Dad’s feet as he sat in his chair. Oh, how deep was it going to be, would I get stuck, would my older brother Dave give me a white wash? All sorts of things ran through my young mind before the sandman came and swept me off to place far, far away.

The next morning came with a new coat of freshly painted white on the ground and it was deeper than I had ever seen. It was a boy’s dream come true. Mom had breakfast all made with a smile on her face. Ready to do it again. I didn’t know then what I know now. Just like many people in these hard times, we didn’t have much. A couple of old sleds Dad traded-up for were our prized possessions.

Mom made us feel like millionaires. We didn’t know we had little and it was because of her and Dad, too. Well, what else did a kid need that we didn’t have? We had good food, a clean warm house, nice comfy beds and plenty of love. When we were cold, Mom warmed us up with the wood that Dad and us boys cut. When we were hungry, Mom fed us. When we scun our knees, she would hug us until the pain went away.

vintage snowmobile stan kapola

So, as you can see, pulling my snowmobile suit out of the closet for the first time each year, a wealth of old memories comes flowing into my head. I am sure that many of you true riders can remember many of these things like I do. My suit represents much more than keeping this rider warm. It is Mom, Dad, brothers and friends, all folded up and hanging in the closet.

Now it is my turn, with my wife to teach my children what is really important in snowmobiling, and that seat time is probably the least important part. It’s the stories and memories they’ll remember. Stories they hear from their uncles (my brothers) and aunts sitting at the table on a winter day visiting and having lunch. And, of course, there is my Mom with my wife standing at the stove passing the torch to a new generation of amazing women. And from years of experience, I can tell you that the cocoa is almost done.

My God, am I seven again? (Mom! Cody’s marshmallow blob is bigger than mine, LOL.) Thanks, Mom & Dad, I love you very much!

Photos by Stan Kapola

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