Saturday, December 31, 2011

Let's Go Skating

The madness that surrounds the month of  December definitely took a toll on the blog.  Now that old man winter lurks in the corner and January approaches, I'm reminded of one of my favorite things about growing up in northern Iowa ... ice skating.  Of course, back in the 50's, we were not surrounded by umpteen electrical devices to play with as the kids are nowadays.  We had to use our imagination and find something to do.  In my case, if you hung around the house too long, Mom would find a chore or two so I tended to drift out the back door.

There was an empty lot between our house and the neighbor.  It had a low spot that would tend to fill up with melted snow, which would then freeze into a pond.  Just the right place for a young girl to practice ice skating.  We had an old pair of hockey skates hanging in the cellar and I would put on about 3 pair of socks and stuff the toes with newspaper to make them fit.  I spent hours clunking around that small patch of ice while teaching myself how to skate.  Now that I think back on it, I'm sure my trials on the ice provided the neighbors with several hours of entertainment!

One wonderful Christmas, there was a pair of beautiful, white figure skates under the tree.  Lordy, it was fun to actually have a pair of skates that fit.  It's amazing how much easier it is to function on the ice when the skates actually lace up nice and tight.

My hometown of Rockford, Iowa was nestled between two rivers.  Lime Creek (aka Winnebago) was just two blocks down the road, but it never froze smooth.  All of my friends would trudge to town and skate beneath the bridge on the Shell Rock River just north of the dam in the area of the old mill pond.  The water was very deep and still in that area and most winters it froze perfectly smooth.

The father of one of my old school friends owned a service station and he had an old willys jeep.  Every winter he would plow the snow off the river and make a nice rink for us.  Then he would plow a long, curved path so we could play "crack the whip".  You never know real terror unless you've been at the end of the "whip" and went sailing off onto uncharted ice.  Yeeowee...

We always knew we were safe if we stayed on the path Clarence had plowed.  If the ice had held for Clarence and his jeep, we knew it was froze solid and deep.  If you ventured out of bounds, you might hear that terrifying  c-r-a-c-k ...  After a while you learned the different sounds of ice when it was just making a cracking sound because it was so cold ... or the other scary sound when it was weak and giving way.

 The street lights on the bridge above the rink area provided just enough light for us to see in the evenings.  Someone also provided an old oil drum and if we were really lucky, one of the big boys would bring along an old tire to burn to help keep us warm.

Now that I look back on those days, I'm amazed at the hours we spent outside in those cold, northern Iowa winters.  We were not blessed with warm down-filled coats, stocking caps and warm gloves like you see on kids today.  Our coats were usually wool (no warm sweatshirts or fleece underneath) and we wore those butt-ugly wool headscarves. Of course, once your wool mittens became soggy, they were useless.  If you were smart, before you took off your skates, you would warm your boots over the fire before putting them on. I seem to remember someone dropping a boot into the fire by accident. Can't remember how they got home because everybody walked to the river.  No such thing as a parent dropping you off in those days.  If you wanted to go somewhere, you had two feet.

Then, after a long evening of skating, when you were frozen through to the bone, you would tie your skates together and throw them over your shoulder for the eight-block walk home ... usually into a northwest wind.  Thankfully, there was a public toilet in the old library building that was half way home and you could warm up a bit.

So I'm wondering .... when did I become such a whimp?


  1. Evi, I loved the blog. Of course it makes my day knowing that others remember Dad clearing the ice. Do you remember a bonfire one night? I think that we did that at least once. Duke says that he has fond memories of skating in hockey skates, playing 'stealing the sticks'... Thanks for the memories...

  2. Thanks, Kareen. Glad you like it. Don't remember a bonfire, but I do remember hot chocolate at your house.

  3. I am enjoying your blog! Your link to read it was sent to me by Linda Patton, my dearest friend in the world. I'm beginning a blog and she was certain I would enjoy yours! And I do. Some of what you write about Linda has told me re: growing up in Rockford. I've been through the area only once, but all Linda told me was true, it's beautiful there. I'll continue to enjoy following you!