Bad winter, good ice skating

Even a bad winter can have something good about it.

Ice skating, for instance.

Last winter was so warm our farm pond never froze over, at least not enough to skate on, not once. In a normal winter we might get one weekend of good ice skating. This winter we got three, all in February.

And by “good ice skating” I mean any ice skating, usually bad ice skating. The surface is rarely good, never perfect, often awful. Then there are the conditions: blizzards and frostbite temperatures so no one wants to brave the elements, or a warm spell and the surface turns to slush. As for the skaters, few are competent. The only one who can really skate is Seed. When we play ice hockey it’s often everyone against Seed, and even with no goalie Seed can win 13-0 if he wants to.

Not that any of those detriments stop everyone from having a wonderful time if we do manage to get up an ice skating party.

The beautiful thing about pond ice skating is its freedom. Wear skates or don’t. Lay down on the ice and gaze at the sky when you get tired. Eat snow. Race your dog. Pull tots on saucer sleds. Have a snowball fight. Play hockey or skate on your own or just sit on the dock and watch.

The only rule is don’t hurt anyone. That, and don’t go to the upper end, where the water comes in, because the ice is thin you’ll fall through, like young Harry Bailey did in It’s a Wonderful Life, and George may or may not be there to save you. And don’t go around the edges because it’s thin there, too, and you’ll step through, just your foot. And no slapshots with the puck because you’ll knock some kid’s teeth out. And don’t walk on the concrete with those borrowed skates because it will dull them and they’re not very sharp anyway.

Yes, freedom to do whatever you want is what makes pond ice skating so much fun.

I SHOULD HAVE taken a picture all those years ago, but I still can still call up the image in my mind’s eye: my dad standing forlornly on the dock, a coil of rope in his hand, the Guardian, watching Honey and I skate with the kids when they were little. Ol’ Food made him do it, worried that we would fall through the ice. He must have stood there for an hour before he got cold went home.

“How thick is the ice?” one visitor asked last Saturday.

“Thick enough,” I answered.

I have in the past chopped holes in the ice and actually measured its thickness, but not for years. I usually know when the ice is ready by how many days we’ve had freezing temperatures and how low those temperatures were. Seed can judge ice readiness as well as I.

My rule of thumb is that two and a half inches will hold a skating party. I’ve walked around on two inches but that’s a bit iffy. The deep freeze in which our area has lingered for the past three weeks has not allowed the ice to thaw at all, so now it’s probably four inches or better.

I only heard the ice pop once last weekend. I’m not sure anyone else heard it because it wasn’t a very loud pop. Often you can see as well as hear a crack travel through the ice, and that can be very disconcerting if you’re not used to it. Don’t worry, it’s just what ice does.

TWO PREACHERS showed up at one skating party years ago after Honey announced it at church. We always have extra ice skates for people to use, but the preachers weren’t dressed for skating anyway. They ventured tentatively out on the ice in their street shoes . . . until there was big pop! We laughed as they slipped and slid to get off the ice as fast as they could.

I told them, “That was just the ice saying hello,” but they didn’t go on the ice again.

Our stash of extra ice skates has grown over the years, even though I ruthlessly winnowed them last year, throwing out all the skates without mates, the cracked leather hockey skates that were old when Bobby Orr played, and the artificial leather skates that disuse had left in hard, twisted rigor mortis shapes.

We have – count ’em – 10 or 11 totes full of pretty nice skates to lend out, all sizes, figure and hockey, collected over the years at yard sales. Last summer when COVID was on the wane and we were making the rounds of garage sales up in Beaver, Pa., we came across a large tote of goalie gear and hockey skates for sale. A man’s sons had grown out of the skates, priced at a very reasonable $5 a pair. “Twenty dollars for the whole bunch?” I offered, and the seller agreed. Honey got his name and phone number so she could invite him to a skating party, which she did, though his crew couldn’t come last weekend.

Last Saturday and Sunday we had at 25-30 people on the ice, and two hockey rinks, with nets, cleared of snow, as well as a big circular rink for non-hockey players. Yesterday, Friday, I ran the snowblower to clear off the worst of the week’s snow accumulation, so that our crew of me, Seed and the grandsons had to shovel only about 45 minutes to finish clearing the ice.

Today 25 people turned out for another session of old-fashioned fun on the ice, and what did it cost any of us? A little effort, and help from an otherwise miserable winter.

(Fred Miller’s new book of 100 stories, “Falling Under Honey’s Spell,” is $10, available locally at Connie’s Kitchen, Davis Bros. Pharmacies, Frank’s Pastry, Giant Eagle Calcutta, Green Marble Coffee, Museum of Ceramics, Pottery City Antique Mall, and at fredmilleratlarge.com.)


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