Sledding With My Dad: Good Memories

Google Street View's image: Prairie Home Cemetery, seen from near 9th Street South and 9th Avenue South, Moorhead, Minnesota. (February 2022) via Google Street View, used w/o permission.
More than six decades later: new buildings, new snowfall, old memories. (February 2022)

Most of the neighborhood I grew up in is now a parking lot.

But Prairie Home Cemetery, a block west of the house I grew up in, is still there. I mostly remember it as being next to the sledding hill.

My father and I went by, or maybe through, the cemetery on our way to the ‘hill’.

The sledding hill wasn’t, technically, a hill.

It was part of a coulee going through the southwest corner of Prairie Home Cemetery. Or, rather, it was part of what had been a coulee.

There must have been a culvert under 8th Street South, since the coulee continued through Concordia College. All that’s left of that part is “Prexy’s Pond”, and a bridge over a lower-than-average stretch of lawn.

There’s another trace of that coulee; although I haven’t seen it mentioned. It was in a small home’s back yard, near the corner of 9th Street South and 10th Avenue South.

It’s still there. Or was, at any rate, in February of 2022, when Google Street View recorded that particular part of south Moorhead.

I probably wouldn’t have noticed it, back when I lived nearby: but Moorhead is in the Red River Valley. That’s one of the flattest expanses of land on Earth.1 Any dip will stand out.

Flexible Flyer and Winter Clothing

Orton R. Emmett Owen's illustration for 'Bobby of Cloverfield Farm', by Helen Fuller. (1922)Anyway, my Dad and I, along with a number of other kids and adults, would slide down the east side of the coulee.

Actually, the kids did nearly all the sliding.

This would have been around 1960, so the sleds would have been like the Flexible Flyer in that illustration. It’s from a book published in 1922, but the design hadn’t changed much. Still hasn’t.

These days, most sleds I see in Walmart are those plastic things with ridges running along the bottom.

I can see advantages to the new design. For one thing, they’ll probably slide along surfaces that’d have stopped my old sled. As I recall, snow had to be fairly firm.

On the other hand, they don’t look particularly steerable. Which the Flexible Flyer was, at least in principle. I don’t remember my sled being very maneuverable, but maybe my expectations were too high.

In any case, a quick online check tells me that Paricon Sleds still makes “Classic Sleds”. So someone, somewhere, has probably written about the pros and cons of old-school Flexible Flyers and today’s plastic sliders.

Now that I think of it, I’m not sure how accurate that 1922 picture is. The book starts on a “cold morning in March”, but I don’t know where. If it’s where the author grew up, east of Niagara Falls, that cold morning’s day might have stayed below freezing.

But I grew up in Moorhead, Minnesota, where it was not quite ten degrees (Fahrenheit) colder that time of year. On average.2 Going sledding with a light cap on my head, short pants, and no mittens, was not a reasonable alternative.

Memories and a Legacy

Google Street View's image: The gates of Moorhead State, now Minnesota State University, Moorhead; seen from 11th Street South and 7th Avenue South, Moorhead, Minnesota. (October 2011) via Google Street View, used w/o permission.
Moorhead State’s gate: The trees are bigger, the paving fancier, than when I lived near there. (October 2011)

I don’t know how often my Dad and I went to the sledding hill.

I do remember what it was like: cold, bright, a swift ride down to the coulee’s bottom, a slow trudge back up, pulling the sled behind me. Then back on the sled and down again.

I learned that leaving my mittened hands on the runners wasn’t a good idea.

It was my left hand that slipped down from the runner’s leading curve, caught on the snow and shot back; throwing me off-balance. I wasn’t hurt, but feeling my weight pressing the runner onto my hand wasn’t pleasant.

I don’t remember how we decided it was time to go back home. Or even what time of day it typically was. Probably afternoon. And probably determined by my father’s noticing how cold he was getting.

But home we went, at least once stopping to look at some of the stone markers in Prairie Home Cemetery. I’m not sure why my Dad did that. My guess is that it’s because he had my ‘interested in everything and anything’ attitude.

No. It’s the other way around.

I have his ‘interested in anything and everything’ attitude.

As legacies go, that’s a pretty good one. I hope I’ve passed at least some of it on to my kids.

Children, Dreams, and Choices

Brian H. Gill. (March 17, 2021)Encouraging my kids to pay attention to the wonders around us, and think, is one thing.

Insisting that they be just like me, or achieve something I wanted to do, that’s another: and not a good idea.

Imprudent parental pressure was highlighted with a light touch in a Phineas and Ferb episode:

“…You, Monty Monogram, don’t have to give up my dream of becoming an acrobat….”
(“Minor Monogram” / Transcript (2012) via Phineas and Ferb,

One of the many things I like about being Catholic is that what the Church says makes sense. Like how to be part of a family. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1601-1617, 1633-1637, 1914, 2197-2206, 2214-2233, 2366ff, and more)

The ‘you can fulfill my dream’ option for raising kids is not part of the package.

Part of my job as their parent is teaching them about our faith. (Catechism, 2226)

Books have been written about that. Today I’ll just say that telling my kids what I believe and why I believe mattered, and matters. So did, and does, acting like I think it matters.

Another angle is — was in my case, the kids are long since grown — seeing to it that our children learn what’s needed in today’s world. And then, once they’re adults, letting them decide what they do with what they’ve learned. (Catechism, 2229-2231)

In the case of our kids, “letting” them was a given. Each, in his or her own way, is as stubborn as their mother and I are. “Strong-willed” might be a nicer way of saying it.

Happily, neither my wife nor I had a family tradition of following some specific career.

As adults, each of the kids have “the right and duty to choose their profession and state of life.” (Catechism, 2230)

One of them opted for being married, the other three surviving kids haven’t. Either way, this is okay. (Catechism, 2231)

Giving them “judicious advice” has been part of my job. (Catechism, 2230)

Success and Vocations

Carl Hassmann's 'The Almightier' illustration for Puck. (May 15, 1907)Insisting that our children have a “successful career”, or conform to some other societal standard: that was not a priority.

I spent my teens in the Sixties; and retain a lack of enthusiasm for spending money I don’t have, to buy stuff I don’t need, to impress people I don’t like.

Misgivings about being “successful” didn’t start in the Sixties:

“I’ve got my standards. ‘I’ll lie, cheat, steal for this company…’ but I will not give up my integrity. I feel that a man is of value to the organization as long as he…”
Brigadoon” (1954) (via

And that’s another topic.

A few more points, and I’m (almost) done for this week.

Having kids can be a good idea. But not having kids — sometimes that happens. Which is why we’re told that adoption can be a good idea. (Catechism, 2366-2379)

It should be obvious, but we’re also told that children are people, not property. (Catechism, 2378)

Each of us — single, married, in religious life — has a vocation. Mine is being part of the laity, and being married. Which reminds me. It’s been a while since I defined “vocation” in this context:

Vocation: The calling or destiny we have in this life and hereafter. God has created the human person to love and serve him; the fulfillment of this vocation is eternal happiness (1, 358,1700). Christ calls the faithful to the perfection of holiness (825). The vocation of the laity consists in seeking the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will (898). Priestly and religious vocations are dedicated to the service of the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation (cf. CCC 873; 931).”
(Glossary, Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Good Memories

John Tenniel's illustration: looking-glass world's chessboard landscape, for Lewis Carroll's 'Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There'. (1871)Our kids won’t have Dad taking them sledding as childhood memories.

But they’ve got story time in the attic to remember, and — I hope — other good memories.

That, I think, is a pretty good legacy.

I’ve talked about ‘family’ stuff before:

1 Flatland, and a town across the river from Fargo, North Dakota:

2 An enduring sled design, a common activity, old books, an obscure author, and climate:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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3 Responses to Sledding With My Dad: Good Memories

  1. I have no actual experience with sledding, having grown in a tropical country and only knowing about it through imported information, but that doesn’t stop me from being fascinated about it and how it has evolved. Not that it’s high up on my interest list if I ever had an easier chance to do it, though, as I’m more of an indoors guy. Still, even indoors people have to have some outdoor experience, and I’m glad that your dad helped you have good ones there, Mr. Gill.

    • I’m an indoors guy myself, which may be why that sledding memory stands out. As for why so many folks go out of their way to slide down snow-covered hills: that’s a question. And thanks – to you, for your perspectives – – – and to my father, who helped me have good memories.

Thanks for taking time to comment!