Monday, August 1, 2016

The Ice

           When I was a just a kid we had this pond in my neighborhood. The wide assortment of creatures that lived within it could literally keep us busy for an entire summer; polliwogs and frogs and minnows galore. The surrounding woods were filled with chipmunks and birds and squirrels and such. I have no idea how many summers I spent there, but I know that it all came to a halt when my mom left my dad. But up until then, it was an integral part of the memories of my youth.
            Now, if you think the pond was a thing of beauty in the summer, the winter was even better. We almost could not wait for it to get cold enough for the warm summer water to begin to turn into ice. As summer faded into fall, with the changing of the leaves; browns and oranges, burnt reds and golds, came the promise of winter and…the Ice. Out eventually came our mittens and galoshes and along with them our heavy coats and long winter scarves. All signs that the Ice would soon come.
The pond was on some land that my best friend’s family owned and every morning, with our breath turning to vapor, we would meet on the edge of the pond to see if it was frozen. We had been well warned. It was not just the top which need to be solid, but the entire depth of the pond before it was safe to skate upon. And so we waited. Every morning, like clockwork, I would climb into my boots and mittens and coat and head down to the pond to meet my best friend and her brother. Often, if it was Saturday, my friend and I would just sit on the edge and stare. No words were needed. We both knew what we wanted. We both knew it was just a matter of time.
One day my best friend’s father Jimmy, came to check the pond with us. We had told him the day before we thought it was ready and, with bated breath, we watched as he stepped out onto the pond to see if it was yet frozen through. By now, word had spread that the day maybe upon us and the other kids in the neighborhood began to gather in rowdy anticipation. It seemed to take forever for Jimmy to check. He carefully went over every inch of ice. And then finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he looked at us and gave us the thumbs up. A cheer arose from the crowd and we bolted onto the Ice, sliding gleefully down on our butts. We flapped our arms, we threw snow balls and we ran, legs pumping but getting nowhere on our fake skates. The Ice…had arrived.
            Although our joy was loud and true, the Ice was still not complete. It was not ready for our skates and hockey sticks and helmets and squabbles. It had to be watered again and again to build up a smooth surface for us to play hockey. And so, once again, every morning, I would climb into my boots and mittens and coat and meet my friend and her brother out by the Ice. We took turns with the water hose; the one which provided us with water to quell our thirst on a hot summer day, was now the key to our happiness. So we watered, and we waited.
            Then, one bright, wintry Saturday, in the cold of a December snow, the Ice was ready. It was THE day, a rite of passage. The shed which sat upon the edge of the woods was unlocked. The smell of our gear, stale now from sitting through the summer, forgotten, wafted out upon the crisp, winter air. We made a chain of all the kids in the neighborhood and, out came the hockey gear. Handed from one small set of hands to another, it came. Helmets, hockey sticks, shoulder pads, pucks and torn
jerseys. And finally, the crème da la crème, the two goals which we would defend with all the vigor and honor of a warrior. At long last, out came the most important thing to all warriors, the goalie gear. The giant gloves, the blocker, the catcher, the goalie stick, the chest protector and the cumbersome leg pads. And the most impressive thing of all, the thing we all coveted and wanted to wear, the goalie mask. 
            Each item was carried out to center ice. The goals were placed and the teams were divide. The Goalies chosen, the forwards, and the other players one and all. With our breath quickening in the cold frosty air, the puck was dropped center ice and the game was on. What we had waited not so patiently for was now at hand. The fights and bloody noses, the chosen referee calling out our transgressions, the laughter and the camaraderie in full swing. Our voices, our joy, and our moments of triumph and defeat could be heard echoing through the woods. The same woods which held the maple trees that would we would wait not so patiently to tap in the spring. The woods that held not an ice rink, but a pond filled with wonder and joy and polliwogs. But for now, only one thing mattered. And that my friends was…the Ice.

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