Jake IsaacsonMy dad’s mom, Mary MacIsaac, lived to 112 years of age, and in my memory, she was always old. But apparently this was not so. At one time, she was a young mother, raising five children in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, with her husband Jack. Every autumn, she cut and stitched flannel pajamas to keep her children warm through the cold Saskatchewan nights. Pajamas weren’t just for sleeping. This was the Great Depression, and money was tight, so you would layer whatever clothes you had to keep out the cold. A typical winter´s outfit was a waterproof slicker over woolens, with an innermost layer of pajamas. So attired, and with long wooden skis strapped on their backs, my dad and Grandpa Jack would hike up a local hill and enjoy a brief thrill skiing down before hiking back up for another run.
Later in life, my grandmother would send a set of warm flannels every Christmas to each of her eighteen grandchildren. Like my dad, I enjoyed a warm pair of pajamas. Also like my dad, I enjoyed skiing. However, unlike my dad, I didn’t ski in my pajamas. At least not by choice.
Dad taught me to ski at three years of age. He would hold me securely between his knees on the steeper parts, and send me on my way when it was flat. By age five, I was a terrific skier - fearlessly plunging straight down the steepest of black diamond slopes, flying through the air on the moguls, then breathlessly rushing to the ski-lift for another run.
Even after his divorce, Dad took his six children skiing every weekend. He had invested one thousand dollars into the Green Mountain Ski Resort on Vancouver Island when it was just starting out, and for that investment, was entitled to a family ski pass for life. It was the best investment he ever made!
But it was too much skiing. Sometimes I wanted to do what other kids did and enjoy a lazy Saturday morning watching TV. So one morning I decided to stay in bed, wearing a warm pair of Grandma’s pajamas. All of a sudden, there was Dad. He scooped me out of bed, and tossed me, still in my blue paisley flannels, into the back of the green GMC truck on top of the skis. Inside the cab, two rows of bench seats were already filled with siblings and neighbor kids on each other’s laps, and Dad’s latest redheaded fling riding shotgun. This was before seat belts, and Dad believed in sharing his love of skiing with the world.
It was an uncomfortable ride, bumping along rough logging roads, with ski poles and bindings poking into my backside, but no worse than having the bony butt of some neighbor kid on my lap. To keep the fighting to a minimum, Dad would get us to sing. He taught drinking songs from the 1890s, such as “Landlord, fill the foaming bowl, until it doth run over”. My favorites were songs where anyone could invent a verse, such as the “Quartermaster’s Store”. One of my witty siblings came up with the verse “There were bananas, bananas, and Bruce in his Pajamas”. Fortunately there was plenty of opportunity for revenge, since “Hugh” rhymes with “Poo” and “Mel” rhymes with “Smell”.
Eventually we arrived at Green Mountain. The other kids hauled their bags and equipment out of the truck and headed into the lodge to change.
There I was in my pajamas, with no other clothes, and no ski equipment. No skis, no poles, no hat, no gloves. But no problem. Dad grew up in the Depression, and he knew how to make do. He raided the lost and found, and I was supplied with a bright orange hat and mismatched gloves. In an uncharacteristic moment of extravagance, Dad bought me a new pair of Benner skis. Being the sixth of six children, having something new rather than a hand-me-down was, well, unbelievable! I was in heaven! It was a warm spring day, one of those days when some skiers wore shorts, T-shirts, and even bikinis. Skiing in my pajamas was warm enough for me, and as for fashion, who cared, because I had brand new skis!
The final ski competition of the season was being held that day, and Dad entered me into the “Boys Under Six” category. In my new Benners, I was confident! I pushed off hard from the gate, almost losing my balance on the first sharp curve, but recovered and barreled down at full speed. My pajamas were light and flexible, allowing me to bend and stretch as I carved each turn. The snow was slushy in the hot spring sun, but my Benners cut into the snow as I continued to gain speed. The soft flannel flapped against my legs, and my pajama top climbed up exposing my belly button to the rush of cool air. One more flag to go! I leaned into a sharp turn around the last flag, a bit too fast, and fell back. My butt landed on the back of my skis, as I whizzed through the finish line in an unanticipated second place finish!
Dad beamed as I received my plaque and my brand-new transistor radio. I thought I won because of my new Benners. But perhaps it was Grandma’s pajamas.
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