Thursday, December 08, 2005


“All shod with steel
We hissed along the polished ice, in games
~William Wordsworth

To a kid growing up in the north, winter is a magical time. Every child goes to bed dreaming of that first “real” snowfall, the kind that delivers three or four inches, enough for snowmen and snowball fights. My sisters and I fondly remember the year of the blizzard –seventeen inches of snow were dropped on Madison that day, the kind of storm we haven’t seen since. While parents were busy shoveling out, we kids burrowed deep into the snow mounding the front yard, carving out a large snow fort that lasted into spring. Best of all, though, winter was for sleds and ice skates.

For a few years growing up, we lived on a cul-de-sac that abutted a marshy area, complete with small pond. The marsh was forbidden during the summer months, as there were a lot of muskrats – and you do not want to mess with a muskrat! Winter, however, was entirely different. Sometimes we would meet friends at one of the public parks where large ice rinks had been made – one for skating and one for hockey – but most days we played in our own back yard.

From December through February, we hurried home from school to take advantage of the hour or so left of daylight, grabbing up sleds (there was an excellent sledding hill at one end of the marsh that has long since been leveled in a “highway improvement” project) or a pair of ice skates. Though I did my share of sledding, I much preferred to be out on the ice, whisper thin blades gliding across its glassy smoothness.

I don’t know why more kids from the neighborhood didn’t skate here, but most afternoons we had the ice all to ourselves. The pond was just wide enough for figure eights, games of crack-the-whip or vain attempts at flips as we tried to figure out how the Olympic skaters did all those cool jumps they did on TV. Oh, how I longed for figure skating lessons, but it was never to be.

At one end, the pond gave way to a long creek that was perfect for racing. If there’s one thing Wisconsin is good at producing, it’s speed skaters and we had some of the best to emulate. Native Madisonians and Olympic medallists Eric Heiden and younger sister Beth were widely imitated in those days, as Dan Jansen, Christine Witty and Kasey FitzRandolph are now.

It’s funny, as much time as we spent out on the ice in those days, I don’t recall skating much once we were in high school. Of course, we had moved by then and were now a long, cold mile from the nearest lake, but even on weekends we rarely went to the rink. I went once or twice in college, but friends and I never seemed to get to the nearby rink as wanted. There were always too many other things going on, or exams to study for.

When my niece Elizabeth (baby sister’s oldest daughter) was about two years old, my sister Heidi and I took her skating at the Vilas Park lagoon, a popular Madison skating pond. Bundled up in her snowsuit as she was we knew she’d be far warmer than we would, and that the layers would also pad her falls – not that she had far to fall at only two feet tall! Though she didn’t quite understand the concept of ice skating when we told her where we were going, she found the funny boots we put on her feet rather interesting, especially when we got out on the ice where she could see all the skaters twirling by. We held her hands and pulled her along between us for a while, then let her try it on her own. She wasn’t at all happy with that idea and insisted we “hold her hand,” but we pretended to alternately ignore her and give encouragement, and she eventually learned how to get up on her own and how to move her feet forward without falling down. We spent more than two hours out on the ice, and had to carry her off of it, kicking and screaming, when it was time to go. She didn't want to leave, even though we were all getting cold and tired. Had our sister not moved south soon after that, I’ve no doubt we would have had a great skater on our hands.

I’ve not been skating since that day, and neither has Elizabeth, who has no memory of her ice skating adventure. Now my sister Heidi has a daughter, and I can’t wait until she is two or three years old and we can introduce her to the joys of skimming over the ice. I hope we remember how it’s done!


Jana said...

What a precious story. It's really too bad that your niece doesn't remember it. Hope your new niece has plenty of good times to remember. :)

Heather said...

I wouldn't be surprised if Payton were out on the ice this time next year, or the year after. Her cousins Owen and Myles, too! Hehe...

Darla M Sands said...

What a joy to have found this! Memories like this are great.