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
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