Memories of Sled Riding

First, a story ….

Not too long ago, I sat by the bedside of a friend who was in the process of leaving this life after a long struggle with dementia. This particular woman was such an inspiration to me. Though she struggled with memory and sensory problems, she smiled readily, sang often, and her words – though sometimes difficult to understand – were always filled with encouragement and joy. Her ability to talk had left her. Her health was failing, but she was still singing. Still full of joy.

Her family had told me stories, as had she, about her growing up time. And, sadly, she had lived on our memory care wing long enough that we had made our own memories together. But, at this time, when she kept her eyes closed and rarely responded, except to sing with me, I could still get her to smile by re-telling the story of how she got her nickname.

This is what it’s all about… making connections with the person and getting them to smile.

Gather the memories so that you can give them back!

But you cannot experience that blessed moment if you don’t first gather those memories and store them away so that you can give them back!

So, it’s time to put our reminiscing skills to use! Winter has fallen in Western Pennsylvania but, alas, we haven’t experienced a large amount of snow yet. Still, the new year has begun and the snow will soon arrive. It’s just the right time to learn about how your loved one spent time outdoors in the winter.

A little advice….

Again, I would encourage you to write down or tape your loved ones responses to the questions. Later, when words have failed them, you can give them the gift of re-telling these stories to them. I have used this voice recorder in the past, but use what you have available. Be aware that, if you do purchase this item, I earn a commission from Amazon through their affiliates program. (

I like to ‘google’ images to show my friend as we talk about the good old days. For a discussion on sled riding in the winter, google ‘vintage sled riding’ and click images. There are some terrific photos and paintings to look at as you share the memories. Share some of your own experiences as well, but do not pressure them or say, “Remember when you did ________?” Chances are they may not remember and asking them to do so could cause confusion.

Instead, say, “Did you ever ____?” So, ready to dig in? Gather your loved one and your laptop or tablet, get comfortable, and get talking! The following are ‘tried and true’ questions to ask. What if they didn’t go sled riding…. ever? Maybe their children did and you can rephrase the questions to include them. Or, maybe you can ask what they did inside during the winter time? Or, ask WHY they didn’t sled ride. Perhaps they were not allowed. Perhaps they didn’t like to get cold or wet? You just want to get them talking about themselves and their past.

Try to get them to discuss sensory information. What did it feel like? What did they see? How did they feel inside – exhilarated, afraid, tired… What did the snow taste like if they tried it? Or, how did those warm treats that Mom made taste and feel in their mouth? What about smells? How did the air outside smell? Could you smell the smoke from chimneys? Exhaust from cars?

Relax and enjoy! Follow their lead. The following are just suggestions! If you discover additional questions that led to longer interactions, please share! In a group setting, I normally share my experience with the topic at hand to ‘prime the pump’ and give them the vocabulary to share more. Try both ways and see what works.

Memories of Sled Riding: The Questions

Did you have a sled when you were a child?

What did it look like? Was it wooden? Did it have metal runners? Was it painted? If so, what was painted on it? Any words? What colors?

How did you pull it around? Did you do anything to make the sled run faster in the snow? Someone once told me that they sanded them and waxed them. Did you ever do that?

Did you have a good place to go sled riding? Where? Was it a steep hill? Who went sledding with you?

What did you wear to keep warm while sledding? Did you have long underwear? What did you wear on your hands? Someone once told me that they wore socks on their hands and up their arms to keep the snow out. Did you do that?

Someone told me that their mother had them put plastic bread bags over their socks. Then, they would put their feet in their boots. She said it would keep their feet dry. Did you do that, too? Or, did you do something else to keep your feet dry?

When you were riding your sled, did you prefer to ride on your belly? Can you show me how you could steer your sled to move to the left or right? Did you ever sit on the sled and steer with your feet? Were you good at it?

Did you ever try to see how many kids you could fit on one sled? Could you fit more than three? Did your brothers or sisters ride with you? Did you prefer to ride alone or with someone else?

Did you ever ride on snow using something other than a sled? In college, some kids would ride on the dining trays from the cafeteria! Did you ever ride on a metal or plastic disc? Did anyone ever make you a sled of your own? Did you ever make one?

When you were done sled riding, what did you do with your wet clothes? Did your family have a wood burning stove? Did you like the smell of the fire? Did you ever drape your clothes near the wood-burner to dry? Did you hang them on the line in the basement?

Was there some yummy snack and drink waiting for you? Did your mother ever make cocoa or tea to warm you up? What about coffee soup or cracker soup? Did you like the taste? Did she get you some popcorn? Did you like yours with butter?

What advice would you give youngsters going outside to sled ride today?

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