The Ice Rink

Anecdote / Memoir ~

Know Thyself, Heal Thyself


Vermont backwoods ice rink warming hut 1968

My memories of the ice rink began in 1964. The ice rink was a magical place, especially at night as the snow fell through the yellow floodlights sitting atop telephone poles surrounding the rink. When you were on the ice all you saw around you were the white snow banks and the tree tops silhouetted against Winter’s sky high above. Aside from the ice itself, was the draw to the music, refreshments, comfort, and camaraderie in the warming shack.

After a snowstorm, the town snow plow would scrape the rink, pushing the snow into high snow banks all around the perimeter. Then all of us kids would shovel and sweep the surface so the town maintenance folks could flood the rink with fresh water.

Then we would all crowd into the primitive rustic warming shack where a huge pot belly stove cranked out an unbelievable amount of rejuvenating radiant heat. The shack was fairly dim inside, had wooden floors, walls, and ceiling, and smelled of wood smoke. Along the back wall was a plain wooden bench that was full of cut marks made by skate blades as people tied their laces. We simply abandoned our boots in the shack while we were skating. I don’t remember ever losing them.

Hot chocolate was served up at the high wooden bar that ran along the inside front wall between the doors. The right door was the entrance and the left was the exit.

Ice Skaters

Cars parked behind the rink’s snow bank left of the hut as we are looking at it in the photo above. I always approached the rink on foot from the woods behind where the photographer stood when taking this photo. I was eleven in 1964 and one of my strongest memories of that time was about what happened one evening as I was trudging through the snow to the rink from my Gram Bs house after supper. I stayed with Gram for a couple of winters while my parents went to sunny Florida to escape the cold.

So I left Gram’s house and crossed the white snow-covered street which was lit by one yellow street light fifty yards up the street on the corner. I walked up the neighbor’s driveway and cut cross lots behind another neighbor’s house and into the dark woods with my skates hanging around my neck. I was on a hill overlooking the rink some 300 yards away as the crow flies. I could see the rink’s floodlights below through the tree branches in the distance and I could hear indistinguishable music blaring from the loudspeakers.

The way to the rink was down and left through the woods, traversing the hill and going obliquely away from the rink. At the bottom of the hill, the path turned sharply to the right and it was a straight shot from there through the trees to the ice but for scaling the mountain of snow at the edge of the rink. All in all, it took about 10 minutes unless I was breaking trail after a storm. Then it took twice as long. Some nights it was pitch black and eleven-year-olds aren’t known for their patience so sometimes I just slid down the steep part of the hill to the right of the trail and avoided trudging down and around through 2+ feet of new snow.

After I rounded the turn at the bottom of the hill I could make out the tune that was playing. I didn’t recognize it but I liked it. It was something completely new and exciting. I couldn’t wait to get into the hut and find out who and what it was. It was “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and it played constantly in rotation with Love Me Do etc. every night after that all winter long.

I took my time in the hut because I was darn cold from my journey. I remember the floor of the hut was a deep brown softwood. It was all chewed up, snowy, and wet near the entrance due to the constant barrage of skate blades entering from the ice.

My mind is overwhelmed with memories of all the wood and the wood smoke, the low lighting, the warmth of that giant black and chrome wood stove, the hot chocolate, being surrounded by childhood friends, the constant conversing, the constant rattle of the skate blades, and the clomping of the blades on the wood floor.

At some point each night a group of us would get an impromptu hockey game together on half the ice. That was fun but my real interest was figure skating. Hockey skates made doing figure skate moves difficult and I eventually talked the powers that be into buying me some proper figure skates with the barbs on the toe. I remember that first night with the new blades. I couldn’t go 10 feet before I would face plant on the ice. It was a long night.

At 9 pm closing time I got changed and trudged back through the woods, up the hill, and cross-lots back to Grams, wondering what in the hell I had done. I didn’t think I’d ever get the hang of figure skates. Gram met me as always on the side porch at the kitchen door, ready with a rug and the broom. She brushed the snow off and helped me out of my winter layers. Something felt funny, and not funny haha. When we pulled my long-sleeved thermal underwear top up over my head Gram gasped. Both elbows were the size of grapefruits! I had stubbornly landed on my elbows for three solid hours and never felt it. I guess they were numb. I can’t remember now what we did about it at the time but I did continue to use the new skates and I got pretty good at it over the next couple of months. I blame my condition on the Beatles. I was engrossed in the melody, rhythm, and beat to the point that the constant falls were merely a nuisance.

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