From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ice Skating Memories

Another Trip Down Memory Lane... Life in the Nebraska Sandhills...



Yesterday, our temperatures stayed below freezing all day, and this morning the ponds were iced over and water in the ruts in the fields had frozen. I had almost forgotten how ice looks. It's easy to get used to the mild winters of Kentucky.

It's hard to imagine myself ice skating now (it would hurt too much to fall down!) but I skated frequently when I was growing up in northern Nebraska, especially during my grade-school years.

Our little country school was located in a low area near a marsh, and the far end of the schoolyard flooded at times. When it flooded and froze, we brought our ice skates to school and skated at recess.

I remember one winter when the schoolyard was so flooded that we could skate up to the barb wire fence at the schoolyard's edge, step over, and skate out onto the meadow.

One of our teachers brought her ice skates to school and skated with us during lunch recess. We laughed at her because she skated roller-skate style and didn't use the toes of her skates to dig in and take off like we did.

Sometimes we all walked about 1/8 mile to the big pond on Walter Boerger's land and skated there.

I don't want to give the false impression that I was an expert skater. I skated well enough that I could move along without worrying too much about falling down. I knew how to bend forward and regain my balance if need be. If things were going really well, I might pick up one foot for a moment and hold steady while I slid along on the other.

I certainly didn't skate around with one leg extended behind me or do graceful leaps through the air like a figure skater. The Horner girls, Carolyn and Velda, were better skaters than I was, and in fact, the illustration above reminds me of Velda. She could make splinters of ice fly as she cut a figure eight or spun around in a circle.

Our church youth group held a few skating parties on one of the lakes in the Sybrant area. I remember skating around the muskrat houses on moonlit nights. We could warm our hands and drink throat-scorching hot chocolate at the bonfire on the edge of the lake.

Given the cold winters and the many ponds and lakes of the Sandhills, it's not surprising that many country kids learned to ice skate. My dad learned to skate as a boy and loved it. They lived along Moon Lake, a sizable body of water south of Johnstown, Nebraska, that is the source of the Calamus River. He told about making a sail so the wind would blow him across the lake on his skates. If the wind was blowing 25 mph, that's how fast he went.

My aunt wrote in a letter to me, "[I] remember Charlie getting on his ice skates when the lake was frozen in the wintertime. We'd probably be going to Grandpa Clark's and Dad would drive on around the end of the fence out onto the lake. I was always afraid the ice would break through. You'd hear it crack. Then we'd pick up Charlie down on the other end of the lake. He'd skate that far."

My children have been Kentuckians since Keely was 5 and Isaac was 2. They have never had a pair of ice skates. They've never even had the experience of sliding across a frozen pond in their overshoes. That makes me feel a little sad for them.

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Related post: Ghosts of Christmas Past (8) in which I recall ice skating on a snowy Christmas Eve.

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How about you? Are you an ice skater?

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

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