Ice skating days for me began on double runners with red cloth straps that buckled over my red rubber boots. Dad gave me a wood kitchen chair to hold onto. As I held the back of the chair, I pushed it along and “skated” across the ice. In time, I gained balance and no longer needed the chair. Eventually, I was blessed with a great pair of white leather figure skates that even had a bell on the bottom of the lacing near the toe. As my skating improved, Dad would call, “Do a swan!” What he probably pictured was something right out of Ice Capades but what he actually saw was me as an eight-year-old wearing bulky wool snow pants and coat, arms outstretched at my sides and one leg out behind me. As I wobbled along on one skate, it was anything but sleek and elegant, but apparently, Dad got a kick out of it.
We had two places to ice skate, the brook, and our ice rink. When the brook near our house froze over, it was great for skating because it was nice and long. It was very exciting as a little kid to skate under the bridge into new territory that I didn’t usually see in the summer. Our Irish setter, Reddy, would run and scratch his way back and forth across the ice and always came running to my side when I fell. Together we had great fun. Eventually, when beavers built a dam on the brook, we could even skate around trees way up the brook where we’d never skated before.
Our other place to skate was the ice rink that Dad created. He packed up earthen sides around a nice flat area parallel with our driveway. He used our irrigation pump to draw water up from the brook to flood it. Our ice rink was a really good size, both wide and long, large enough for lots of people to ice skate. On the weekends, my parents’ friends and our neighbors would bring their kids to skate and it would get a little crowded. Those were happy times, especially for our dog, Reddy…
During the week, the neighbor guys from Loomis Street and as far away as Ham Hill would show up and we’d play a hockey game after school. All the kids and activity would get Reddy so excited that he’d start acting like a junior high boy, looking for attention in irritating ways. As the puck shot across the ice towards the goal, Reddy would run after it and intercept it. With the puck snatched and held between his teeth, he’d dash up and over the snow banks surrounding the rink. We kids would run up and over the snow banks after him. It’s not that easy to chase a dog through deep snow wearing ice skates. Of course Reddy loved all the attention.
Eventually as we closed in on him, he’d drop the puck at his feet and look at us with that laughing Reddy face and swish his long, feathery tail. You could almost hear his little doggie brain saying, “Guys, wasn’t that just the best fun?” Fortunately, we loved him and were forgiving. We were determined to have our fun too. So, we would pick up where we left off with our hockey game until the next Reddy interruption. Another of his tricks was to run fast past some unsuspecting kid, quickly nip the tip of their glove or leap up and snatch the hat off their head. Off he’d go and the chase would begin again, up and over the snow banks and through the snow covered garden. If we were playing hockey, the game was interrupted once again while we tried to retrieve the mitten, or hat from Reddy. We had hours of fun skating, but I think maybe Reddy had more fun than any of us!
Dad was inventive and a problem solver so he created an apparatus to smooth out the ice on the rink. Since we dug up the ice with lots of rough skating after school, by the time Dad got home from work and wanted to skate, the ice needed to be re-surfaced. He didn’t want to catch his black figure skates in a groove and take a spill. We had seen him fall and it was scary. So Dad built a wood shaped “T” with carpet stapled to the bottom edge and ran water over the carpet through a hose from our house. As he pushed this “T” across the ice, the wet carpet made the ice surface nice and smooth. I’m not sure, but maybe Dad and his “T” was Southwick’s first Zamboni.
My favorite ice skating memory of my parents is when Dad and Mom skated alone one night. My second-floor bedroom window faced the ice rink so they played Strauss waltzes on the record player in my window to accompany them while skating. There was a light on the side of the house so they could see where they were going and I could vaguely see them. I thought it was pretty romantic. I still remember having my chin resting on my cold arm and peering through the half open window. Holding hands, Dad and Mom skated round and round the rink to the waltzing music… It’s one of those “Kodak Moments” from my happy childhood.
The first time I ever went ice skating in an indoor rink was with my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time. We had been skating among the happy throngs of men, women, and children when a voice came booming over the loudspeaker that everyone had to leave the ice except for the men. It was time for “men’s skate.” I couldn’t imagine why they would have a “men only” skate time, but I soon learned why. I took my place on the bleachers and what I saw next was like nothing I could imagine. The men’s skate started and off charged this mass of men, both young and old. My boyfriend and all the other men shot across that ice with energy, determination, and manly strength at a dangerous speed. That mass of men moving around the rink was like a stampede of wild buffalo! They skated so fast that I realized removing the women and children was the only safe and sane thing to do. We would have been trampled. Surprised and amazed, I learned something about the needs of men that day.
A number of years ago, I had a very unique ice skating experience. My husband was shooting the puck to my daughter on the pond down behind our house. I decided to skate off towards the beaver hut. The ice that year had frozen clear rather than white as it usually does, so I could see right through it. All of a sudden I very clearly saw a beaver swimming under the ice below me. I skated as fast as I could to try and catch up with him but he was too fast. He was heading in a straight line for the hut. I called my husband and daughter and they came skating over to where I was. We skated around that area for a while and then all of a sudden there was our little beaver friend swimming back to where he had first come from. The three of us chased off on our skates but, once again, he could swim faster than we could skate. I was glad that they got to see the beaver too. It was a once in a lifetime experience.