Every winter, my father would shovel our back yard forming a walled dish. He would then attach our rubber hose to the laundry tubs in the basement, take the nozzle to the back yard and carefully flood it until it was full. Once it hardened, he would take out some food coloring and paint brushes and paint an anchor in the middle. He would then spray a few more layers of ice to protect his art work moving the nozzle ever so lightly to make sure it formed as evenly as possible. As soon as the ice was solid enough, he would strap on his skates and would skate all over the back yard. We would also put on our skates and try to emulate him.
Word would quickly spread through our neighborhood and my friends would all come over, skates in hand to try out our “rink.” After we were done, my mother would make mugs of hot cocoa for us with a marshmallow floating on top when we came inside. But this wasn’t just any hot cocoa, it came out of a can and was made with milk warmed on the stove. It was not some foil packaged, microwaved concoction with freeze dried mini marshmallows.
When we were small children, we wore those double bladed lightweight skates that we would strap over our boots. When we were able to stay upright we would graduate to “real” skates those leather ones with a single blade. On our homemade ice rink, we learned how to skate backwards, do an acceptable twirl, and come to a stop throwing a sparkling plume of shaved ice into the air. My father fabricated some lace tighteners so we could lace up our skates.
As I think back, I realize I had acquired many skills skating on that childhood rink that transferred to later life. I learned how to see and move around obstacles which is a necessary skill in driving. I learned how to fall flat on my face, pick myself up, and keep on going like it never happened. Not literally mind you but figuratively. In fact I wear a medallion that I was given the first time I had cancer that reads “Fall down seven, stand up eight.” I learned how to make the most out of what you have by thinking creatively and using what you had. This served me well in my working life.
When I was 16, my parents moved from Buffalo to Getzville where we had a 2 acre plot of land. At the back end of the lot was a creek and a bowl shaped depression. This low spot would fill up with water in the fall and in the winter it would freeze solid along with the stream. We could skate this tributary all the way to Ellicot Creek.
My Father had built a few wooden benches that we put back there so we could put on our skates at the edge of the ice. We also had a “burn barrel” back there and I used to take a handful of wood for a fire to warm my fingers and nose. I spent many hours zipping along, following this waterway, going under bridges and making portages when there wasn’t enough headroom to pass under a road.
I remember the first timid steps I would take on the ice, listening for cracking and how all of my senses would be on high alert. If I had gone thru the ice, it was a long cold walk back to my house. I can still hear the shoosh, shoosh, shoosh sound of my blades as they scraped their way across the ice and the smell of the winter air. I would enjoy seeing the frost patterns in the ice and feeling the exhilarating touch of the icy air on my face. It made me glad to be alive.
I would round the turns of this meandering creek and as I would gather speed, I would sometimes see a rabbit scurry away across the ice or see a white tailed deer watching me with it’s big brown eyes, trying to figure out what kind of creature I was. Winter was not a season to be dreaded to me but it was a delightful time to be alive.
Buffalonians, are a sturdy breed and winter is a large piece of life in Western New York. I learned to cherish winter, and the ice and snow that it brings. It offers yet another way to amuse myself. I remember tobogganing down the hills wherever we could find them, the snowball fights, hitching a ride on the back bumper of a car, skiing, sledding on a cardboard box and the many other wintertime activities.
As I approach the winter of my life, I like to remember that every season brings it’s own pleasures. I would like to enjoy this winter the way I delighted in winter when I was in my youth. It has splendor and presents endless opportunities for happiness.