In the Image

I find spiritual significance in…everything. That is extended to dirty, smelly inanimate objects.

In my garage at this moment sits a fifty-five-year-old snowmobile. It is a one owner machine. Three brothers and I bought it new in 1967. It’s probably been a dozen or more years since it was last brought to life. Tomorrow, God willing, it will deliver an old man and three old women to senior’s coffee on Main Street in Laird. I will be among those.

I was a teen ager then. Our father built a cutter to pull behind the Snow Cruiser 157. It was nattily constructed, then colour matched to the 157. We seven siblings have memories and pictures of climbing aboard with skis and toboggans tied behind, and heading for an uncle’s farm three miles away for an afternoon of sledding with cousins. About a decade ago, we gathered and re-posed that scene. The 157 and cutter had shrunk remarkably.

Shortly after the 157 was purchased, our father realized that one 157 divided by seven children did not offer very big chunks of snowmobiling pleasure for anyone. The yard was soon covered by snowmobiles, all of them faster then the 157. It’s only claim to noteworthiness was that it was purchased new. A family trip always meant that the smallest machines were started first, and the smallest children circled the yard and the pasture while the other sleds were cajoled to life. Snowmobiling meant fixing.

An old friend tells a story of snowmobiling with the Olfert boys. Ross was on the 157, and due to his inexperience, he rolled the machine and himself into a barbed wire gate. When he looked up, he saw Olfert boys running toward him, concern writ large on their faces. Then they maneuvered around him and fell to their knees beside the 157. Was it okay?

Yesterday, grandchildren stopped by, and the fourth generation went for a ride on the streets of Laird. I pointed out to them the repairs that their great grandpa had made on this machine. The 157 tells stories, simply by its presence, it’s loud, loud presence, of important years in my life. It invites me to remember our father, a man who could not offer words of gentleness and caring, but who knelt on the frozen floor of his unheated garage, hands and coat soaked with gasoline, handling ice cold wrenches as he fiddled with a carburetor, or welded broken handlebars. On the remote piece of prairie where our farm was located, only south took us toward community. The other three directions consisted of fields, fences, hills and sloughs, and those were the directions that most of the tracks we left behind pointed. We hunted and explored and fancied ourselves as adventurers. We tied .22 rifles to our backs with baler twine and dreamed of heroic deeds.

A brother and I got off the school bus, into the oversized chore clothes that served as snowmobile gear, and set out on one of those explorations. We got separated, eventually I found my way back home around dark and my brother appeared shortly after. We were shouted at, reprimanded for not sticking together, “That’s why we have more then one!” In hindsight, after being a father, I hear concern, even love in those words that seemed so sharp then.

The 157 represents stories of independence, of making choices and then having to live with the outcome. A few days ago, when it first ran, it seemed good to take the 157 to a meeting at our country church, about five miles out of town. As the machine bellowed slowly across the field, a fence appeared out front. Surely, if I follow the fence into that bluff of trees, there will be banks that will allow me to get over the barbed wire. Surely. Of course, soon I was yanking, twisting, lifting, crashing, as I tried to turn the 157 in the midst of a tight poplar copse. My dad would have got it. My dad was one who understood that recognizing the God Incarnate could best be done by including an internally combusted engine along the way. The 157 helps me remember who my dad was, and what he taught. I’m a lucky guy.