Thursday, August 26, 2004

Skating on thin Ice

The stream that ran between the house and the barn would spill its banks in the fall and the spring. The cold of winter would encrust the banks, creeping deeper into the water, by the second week the ice was thick enough to skate on. A pair of mitts and a touque made perfect goal posts. We couldn't skate too well, they don't have skating like this in England. Down to the local Canadian Tire store to buy our first pair of skates. CCM skates with the signature of a hockey player on them. Once again lost on my English background. We learned to get around, I wouldn't call it skating, I never could stop or skate backwards, but we still had fun on the pond. On really cold days you could hear the ice crack under the strain. And on the warmer days there was the added thrill of getting a "soaker" you know where one foot breaks through the ice and your socks and skate get drenched. We always took an extra pair of socks to the pond, I am sure mom would not approve of us skating on ice that may break. But we were young and invincible.
One day a friend from school convinced me to go to the rink. Artificial ice, what a concept. I was informed of how smooth and slick it was. I had no idea at that time that in the future I would become an iceman, no notion of thermodynamics, ice resurfacing or controlling the unruly masses at a hockey game.
I strapped my skates on and put one blade on the ice. The foot shot out in some unknown direction, slick wasn't the word. I struggled by holding onto the boards, slowly gaining confidence. After about tem minutes I was on my way, confident, as long as no one cut in front of me. I still couldn't stop without hitting the boards. My speed was increasing I was getting a little cocky.
You know the rules in a rink, no food or drink on the ice. Is gum food or drink? I don't think the person in front of me thought they were doing anything wrong.
After all what harm could a single stick of Juicy Fruit do. Well not so much the gum as the aluminum wrapper. Fluttering down to the ice like a fresh snowflake. I didn't see it hit the ice, foil side up, directly in the path of a novice skater barreling down the ice like a locomotive on a clear track. I didn't even feel the tip of my skate slip over it.
I remember the ice, that cold unforgiving surface slamming into my face, my skate blade stopped like it was caught in a vice. I remember the bright lights as I rolled onto my back, my lip warm, my nose numb. Ever notice how ice will suck up drops of blood like a thirsty desert?. Perhaps not, after all most people in Canada know how to skate, or at least how to fall gracefully when the stop.
I prefer that bumpy old pond in the back yard, not too many people watching me making a fool of myself. I could use the hockey stick to support me as a tripod. Sure I may get a soaker, or a bruised knee, but no blood, no crowds of school kids standing over me.
I never did learn how to skate. I did spend nine years as an iceman, driving the Zamboni, even cleaning ice for retired NHL playes, who's names are still lost on me. Oh one more thing, food was not allowed on the ice when I was on shift. As for unrully people at hockey games...... that's a different story.


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