The Sledge

My name is John. When I was a boy, I lived in the Auvergne, high up in the hills in the middle of France.  The winters were very cold. We didn’t have central heating, nobody did, –  for this was a long time ago.

The winters were such fun. In the long evenings, we used to take turns to go to each others’ houses. The women would light oil lamps and get out their lace bobbins, thread and crochet hooks. This was not a hobby, but their work. A merchant would buy it later.  The women didn’t earn much money but it all helped. While the women worked, the men smoked and drank. Pretty strong stuff it was too!  It was all home-made: we made our own liqueurs – plum and pear were Dad’sfavourites. We children played in the corner near the fireplace, if we could, for there was always a fire blazing. Our dog, Rusty, slept in his basket which Mum had made.

One evening, – it seemed just the same as every other – my favourite uncle David tapped me on the shoulder. “Hey John,” he said, “do you remember last summer when you worked hard and helped me bring the hay in for my cows? …You were a good boy to me, and now I am going to make you a sledge!”

“Don’t spoil the boy,” said Mum. “Who should he help if not his uncle? We’re all family!  – Say thank you to your uncle.”

I began to stammer. David laughed kindly. “Don’t worry, boy. I know you mean thank you, don’t you?”  I flushed. Of course I did!  A sledge!  For me! It would be my most treasured possession. Some of the boys had home-made skis, but none of them had a sledge!

Uncle David was good with his hands, – as we all were, for we didn’t have money to waste. Before a fortnight had gone by, the sledge was finished. Such a beauty!  So light, yet solid, with curved runners rubbed with candle wax to slip over the snow…I thanked him with all my heart. “That’s all right, boy,” he said. “I know I can always count on you.” “Oh yes, uncle, you can,” I replied.

Every morning when I woke up, I looked out of the little window where we slept to see if there was any snow. But if we were lucky, the snow was too deep to walk through, and we couldn’t go to school. That morning, my heart sang. The sledge!  I was quickly up and had my bread and milk for breakfast. I wrapped up warm, and Mum handed me the sledge. “It’s yours,” she said, “but let the others have their turn, and mind where you go.”

I took the sledge and went across the field to the hill. Some of the other boys were out there already, and some ran along behind me, all begging for a go on my sledge!  Rusty was there too, – she would help me pull the sledge up the hill later. I put it down carefully at the top of the hill.  I sat on the sledge and lifted my legs. Someone pushed me from behind and whoosh!  I was off!  Rusty running and barking beside me.

It was wonderful. I was not just whooshing down the hill, I was on my very own sledge, and I could do it again, and again! I was so happy.  But how to steer?  and how to stop? I soon learnt to guide the strings gently. As for stopping, it was no problem, for our hill only went down so far, and then it began to go up again. My legs stuck into the snow and Rusty jumped on top of me… Somehow, I got up, and with Rusty’s help, we pulled the sledge to the top of the hill. A group of boys watched me, – they all said the same thing. “Can I have a go?”

My heart sank. I knew it was right to share, but if they all had a go, it would be so long before I had another turn myself. I thought carefully. “Well,” I said, “you can each have one turn, but that’s it. And after each turn, I shall have one. It is my sledge!”

Christian, the biggest boy, pushed his way to the front. “I’m first,” he said and he took the sledge from me and sat on it. I wasn’t happy about this, I felt elbowed out and unappreciated. Christian whooshed down the hill, – but oh, look, he was totally out of control. He smashed into a tree, came off and was still. Worse (though I shouldn’t say this), my sledge was smashed to bits. With Christian’s weight on it, and the speed it went into the tree, it just broke up. I bit back my tears. No-one said anything. Then Christian’s brothers called for help, – it was obvious he was badly hurt. That was serious.

Smashing my sledge was very serious for me. That night after supper, Uncle David patted me on the shoulder. “Bad day, boy? Broken your sledge, have you?”   I couldn’t look him in the face, I looked down and nodded, my eyes stung with tears.

Uncle David put his arm round me. “Not to worry boy. Not your fault, – that Christian’s a clumsy fool just like his father!  We all know it wasn’t you that did it! Besides, there’s something you don’t know.”

“What’s that?” I asked surprised.

“I was happy making your sledge and I’m going to make you another one!”  Uncle David laughed. “Mind you, I’ll not make you a third, so careful with this one.”

“Uncle,” I gasped.  “I will never, never forget this.” And I never ever did.

(This story is by me, Charlotte Sebag-Montefiore, and the copyright is mine)

If you want to listen to the audio version, click the link

Published by Charlotte Sebag-Montefiore

After many years working as a clinical psychologist in the NHS, I became an author. My years as a mother and grandmother gave me plenty of practice telling children stories. I have become very interested in dinosaurs and animals, and I really enjoy rhymes and riddles!

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