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Tough sledding

Charles "Oz" Collins
Eaton, Colo.
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Though he would celebrate 100 birthdays, Roy Carlson always remembered vividly aspects of the Christmas of 1921. His Swedish immigrant parents, Berger and Nellie, had moved the family in 1918 to a farm south of Galeton, Colo. Despite the deadly influenza epidemic of that year Roy recalls that “it was a good year” with plenty of rain and the family had harvested a bumper crop of potatoes. However, in 1921 the rain was less than they hoped.

Life on the farm was good, but filled with long days of toil. By 1921, Berger and Nellie had been blessed with six children, five sons and a daughter. Between making payments on the farm and feeding the growing number of mouths, there was never any money to spare. Consequently, Christmas was usually marked by special church services, a big dinner with traditional Swedish foods, and only small gifts for each child, perhaps an orange or some candy.

The Christmas of 1921 was to be different. Papa decided that the children should have a special gift. A sled would occupy and bring enjoyment to all the children. But this was to be no homemade sled but as Roy recalls “a fancy one of metal and hardwood,” probably purchased with scarce dollars from “Monkey” Ward or some such mail order company.

Unveiling of the sled on Christmas morning indeed brought joy to the children, and no doubt to the parents as well. The boys, Elmer, Roy, George, Johnny, and Harold were especially eager to put the sled to use and happily there was snow. At first, pulling and pushing each other about was a novelty and rides and spills were generously given and taken. Eventually, however, Roy and George decided there had to be a better, a more exciting way to propel their special Christmas gift.

South of the house in a protected area Berger and Nellie planted and cared for a large orchard. The fruit was not just tasty but helped feed the large and expanding family. A fence had been built around the orchard and because of its location and the shelter provided by the trees, calves were kept there.

The sled was set over the fence and the boys proceeded to capture a “tame” calf. When there was such a good supply of calves at hand Roy and George felt that pushing and pulling the sled themselves made “no sense.” The rope had been tied around the calf’s neck and secured to the sled but before anyone could actually get on the calf “took off” dragging the sled among the trees. First the sled hit one tree with a crack and a crash. The sound spooked the calf and it ran faster, the sled now practically flying along behind. Another tree was encountered and more crashing sounds pursued the calf on its unappointed rounds through the orchard.

Eventually the calf came to a stop but not before it had dodged many trees, something the sled had consistently failed to do. Whether the calf was recaptured by the frantic boys or simply stopped from exhaustion is no longer recalled. What still lingers brightly in Roy’s memory, however, is that the sled had been reduced to twisted metal and shards of hardwood. The singular Christmas gift was useless.

But all was not lost, far from it. Papa read from the Bible the Christmas story and presided over Mama’s wonderful Christmas dinner, relatives visited, carols were sung, and a young family celebrated life on the farm that would be home for many, many years to come.


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