Friday, January 27, 2012

The Mill Pond

Larry and I were in Bradford County a few weeks ago to visit some friends.  With farm country comes ponds, lots of them.  It was a pretty cold day,  and looking out the van window  I could see a thin layer of ice on the surface of those we passed.  I remarked that with three or four more days just like that one, the ice skating would be perfect. That is, as long as the snow held off. 

I never minded winter as a kid.  There were lots of children on Chestnut Street so we never had to look far for someone to play with. We sculptured snow into various shapes, built formidable forts with plenty of ammo piled high behind the walls and during quiet moments made perfect snow angels where the snow was still untouched.  The Reese kids who lived across the canal had a nice little tobogganing hill as did the Putt girls who lived on the other side of the street.  Ahhh, life was good in Weston's Mills during the winter months.  

But as wonderful as the snow was, there were times I would hold my breath, hoping and praying that the skies would stay clear. You see, there was a pond that had been a part of the lumber mill owned by the Westons' brothers who had logged the area decades earlier.  During the summer it was nothing but a mosquito-breeding swamp, and unless you wanted to spend those months covered in pink Calamine, it was best to avoid the place.  But it was altogether different in the winter.  That's because just a short distance away through the trees ran the Allegany River which managed to overflow its banks each winter, just enough to fill the Mill Pond and turn it into a wonderful skating rink. 

We would start checking the ice after the first cold snap.  It wasn't far from the house, just across the street and through the field where we picked wild strawberries in June and early July. If snow was in the air, we knew we'd probably find slush which would eventually make for a bumpy, less than desirable surface.  But if the sky was clear, no snow in the forecast,  we could anticipate a smooth area for the first skate of the year. 

The pond was never ready at first check.  Water and bubbles were still visible beneath the thin layer of ice, and we were smart enough to stay off of it.  It's not that we were concerned about falling in, it wasn't that deep.  We simply didn't want to chance ruining the surface.  So during the week, we'd take turns trudging through the field to the pond, eventually venturing off the bank and away from the edge to see how well it held up under our weight.  And then finally the day would come.  I still hear my brother Karl calling out as he pushed through the kitchen door. "It's ready, it's ready!" His voice always seemed to go to a higher pitch when he was excited.  "I'm getting my skates!" 

I don't know how word spread as fast as it did throughout the neighborhood, but in just a matter of minutes the pond was filling up with kids of all ages.  There were a few like my brother Rex who didn't skate, but they were there as well, running and sliding in their black vinyl boots.  And when there was snow to be shoveled, most took their turn at clearing the ice, no matter what they were wearing.

It's funny.  Though I remember my dad skating with us once or twice, rarely were there adults present. Yet I don't remember any fighting or bickering or bullying.  And though some were better skaters, it didn't matter.  If someone was learning, others patiently helped them along.  On the ice there was a camaraderie among us, no matter the degree of skill.  And though we raced to see who could go the fastest and admired those who could do the most spins, there was never a sense of trying to outdo each other.  We were community.

Eventually a light was put up at the Mill Pond allowing for night skates.  I still remember the thunderous booms coming from the ice settling on the dark river that ran just beyond the trees.  I always shivered at the sound, seeming all the more eerie because of the quiet that comes with the night, the moon's reflection being our only company. Karl was often with me as he loved to skate, no matter the time of day.  When I go back to that place and time, he is always there.  I wonder if there's a place that he's able to skate in Heaven?  I hope so. 

The Mill Pond is gone now.  Several years ago the river was dammed off to keep the water away.  Thus, no more swamp and no more mosquitoes.  That's nice for the people of Weston's Mills.  I guess.  I'm told there's a nice rink over in Olean, just a few miles away.  I'll  bet they don't have problems with slush either, always  nice and smooth.  But if I could go back in time and relive one thing over again,  I would return to the Mill pond.  And I would skate all day and then well into the night with my family, gliding among the trees.  And I would savor every moment.  Grateful.

Shoveling the  Mill Pond

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Packer Tree

Our First Packer Tree--2012

This Packer Tree  (2013)  no longer sits by the 22 inch TV.  That died, replaced by a 40 incher! 

 I packed up our Packer Tree this morning.  The team is done, for this year at least, and I feel like I'm ready to move on to other things.  Oh, I'll watch the Super Bowl of course, perhaps not with the same passion I might have felt with Aaron Rodgers controlling the ball, but I'll be cheering on Eli Manning and his Giants while eating chicken wings and pizza along with the rest of America.  Tom Brady is much too pretty and the Patriots are way too cocky, so I'm really hoping New York will put them in their place.  But not that I'm thinking too much about it.  I decided this week that there will be no more football consuming my thoughts and taking up my time.  Taking the tree down should bring some closure to what was an exciting and emotional season.

A gift from a fellow Packer fan in Elmira.   We are everywhere!

The Packer tree went up after Christmas. As soon as the big one came down, we set the little guy up on the entertainment unit right above the old 22-inch television set that carried the games.  Larry found the topper to an artificial tree in the attic at the church and strung it with little green and yellow lights.   Then we proceeded to decorate it with all the Packer ornaments that we'd received over the past months, using a Packer towel for a tree skirt and a hat for the topper.  Beneath the branches,  surrounded by more Packer paraphernalia, sat a picture of Aaron Rodgers.  It was taken six or seven years ago when my brother Rex was in Green Bay visiting Zac who would eventually become our son-in-law.  Some who came to see the Packer tree called it our shrine.  When I told Fawn about it,  she merely laughed and said that her father and I were more consumed with this football stuff than she was.  Perhaps.  Nevertheless, we had resolved it would stay until the Packers were finished for the season.  Naturally, I had hoped it would come down in February.

Aaron Rodgers as a bobble-head, a gift for Larry's 60th birthday

Zac,  Rex and Aaron  
I had a dream last night about Tim Tebow.  So much for football no longer consuming my thoughts, huh?  With all the ESPN highlights I've watched over the past five months, I've seen lots of the Denver quarterback.  And though I'm not a big Broncos fan,  I really like this guy.  So in this dream, I'm hanging out with this person who looks and sounds just like the real Tim Tebow.  But as usually happens in dreams, he is suddenly gone, and I wish that I had thought to grab my camera and get a picture with him.  Ahhh, a sad reminder that I never asked to have a picture taken with a certain Mister Rodgers at my daughter's wedding.  And that was real life.
This one was captured by a friend with  "the claw" at a local convenience store
I never understood why some people go into a slump after the football season wraps up, surviving only by counting the months, weeks, days until it starts all over again. I mean, it is only a game.  Speaking of football, I've been thinking that our little Packer Tree should go up a bit earlier next year.  Before Christmas rather than after might be better, and we could enjoy it longer that way.  Or maybe earlier yet, like halfway through the season, say in early November.  On second thought,  perhaps we should just go ahead and put it up in September when the season starts. That would make more sense.  Better yet,  if it was up during the preseason,  everybody would know how serious we are about our team.  Let's see, that's only six months, a week and six days after the Super Bowl is over.  But then, who's counting?  

Fawn and Zac sent this one to us--from the Pro Shop at Lambeau Field
Charles Woodson as a Hallmark ornament