(Forward) January in Kansas is supposed to be cold, snowy, and blustery. But not this year. It hit 60 Friday. I’m usually a cold weather wimp. My preferred winter activity is sitting in front of the fireplace with a cup of cocoa laced with Irish Cream. Mmmm, pass the chocolate chip cookies,please! But this year, I’m missing winter. My grandson sits on the couch in his new fluffy snowpants and asks when we can go ice skating. The blue sled Mark and my son refurbished hangs forlornly in a dark corner of the garage. Dang Global Warming!
So, I pulled out a story my dad, Joseph Hedge (1925-2009), wrote many years ago about his childhood winters in Anaconda, Montana. I hope it brings a frosty chill to your bones!
Skating On Your Ankles
By Joseph F. Hedge
In my home town, somewhere around the beginning of November, The weather turns from Indian summer to fall and then a quick turn to winter. The snow seems to pile up almost overnight. Then the city workers prepare our city commons for ice skating. The commons encompasses a full square block and the skating rink a circle within that. The fire department floods the skating area on the first day that the temperature hits freezing. This is not a problem in Montana. This is the average temperature from November to March.
We go to the skating rink daily to check the surface. We hope the ice is ready for us. Meanwhile, a shelter is constructed. It has benches for changing into your skates. A huge stove is in the middle of the shelter. Soon, it will be surrounded by those nearly frozen from staying on the rink too long or others warming up before going out.
We celebrate the approaching Christmas season as a huge Christmas tree is placed dead-center of the rink. Its average height is fifty feet and decorated by lights from top to bottom. Strings of lights extend from the tree to six points on the rim of the rink. A stereo plays seasonal music so you can skate in rhythm.
My first year of skating included a pair of ice-skates that clamped on to your street shoes. They would come loose before you could make a whole lap around the rink. They would release from not being put on tight enough, or the sole of your shoe would release. That was more often the case. I have my first pair of shoe skates, passed on by someone with a size seven foot. I am size five and a half. This is a good reason for buying a local newspaper and wool socks. It doesn’t matter. I have shoe skates and am ready for the winter.
I sharpen the blades, oil the shoes, and carry them over my shoulder to the rink. Now inside the change house, I begin putting on my skates. It is warm and smells of wood burning and apples cooking on top of the stove. Some are done, some burning, and some burnt.
I start down the steps toward the ice. I plan to skate like Sonja Henie, the current Olympic skating champion. Why not me? I may someday be that good. Days before coming to the rink, I put on my skates. I stood on them, proving to myself that I would be able to skate.
I reach the ice, my courage on hand, my desire at the peak, my ankles at right angles to the ice. I take five steps in the direction of the tree. I coast fine, ankles erect. Then I need more momentum. I stroke hard and my ankles bend to the will of the ice.
My best friend, Dick (who always has the best equipment no matter what) doesn’t have normal skates. He has RACERS. I try to keep up with him, but my efforts are futile. I go to the side and sit on the four foot piles of snow that rims the rink. I watch those with steel ankles skate to the music.
Not to be deterred, I go back on the ice, about six feet out, and ankle-power to the snow pile. I jump in and sink waist deep. Dick comes over and follows the routine and jumps in. Sam follows. Then Fred Hunkle follows. We’ve found a new game. I am able to participate with oversized skates, ankles a little sore, but I can jump as far as the rest.
After four jumps in the snow, chills begin to set in. All of us start to the change house, those who could skate and those of us that ankle-hooked their way. The change house is warm and the time growing late. We are due home shortly, but the smell of the change house and the view of the lighted tree remain as a beautiful memory. The thought of skating on my ankles has abandoned me. Thanks, anyway.