In Northeast New York State there is about as much winter as there is any other season. Winter sports and recreation are very popular because most of them can be enjoyed for many months. One of the popular activities for children has always been ice skating. Every place we lived in New York had a local or neighborhood skating pond. These ponds were all sizes, shapes, and descriptions. Most were natural ponds not maintained by anyone except when the snow was shoveled off to allow skating. There were no buildings or infrastructure to support the skating on rural ponds.
When we lived in Winthrop the nearest place to skate was a series of small ponds which bordered a railroad track. We would cut cross country through the woods to get to the ponds. We would carry our skates tied together and hanging around our necks or over one shoulder. We usually had a snow shovel and sometimes our hockey sticks. Our parents never went to the ponds. Older children looked out for the younger ones. One of my great adventures happened on these ponds.
Many boys in their young teens carried matches when fishing, skating, or spending time in the woods. We often gathered wood and kept a fire going as we skated. My fire was built inside an old spike keg we found beside the railroad. The keg was on the ice adjacent to the area we had shoveled off for skating. The fire was built while everyone took off their shoes or boots and put on their skates. My new shoes were covered by black rubber overshoes. When my skates were put on, the shoes were set near the side of the old keg, but back far enough to keep from catching on fire.
We skated for several hours during overcast weather with some gusty winds blowing. It was a fun day. I went to check the fire in the keg and found it burning on top of my new shoes. A gust of wind had rolled the keg sideways. It only took a minute to get the fire away from my shoes, but they were destroyed. How stupid of me. The only way to get home was with my skates on. It was a long somber walk home. Carrying matches was not good, but burning up my shoes was a disaster. Mom would be unhappy. It would be a long few hours waiting for Dad to get home, then it would be time for the belt. I was in a winter sweat watching the clock.
Dad sat me down with a big frown on his face to hear my story. When my story was complete he stared with a blank face, then broke into a huge laugh. The shoes were incidental………… but that laugh hurt almost as much as the belt would have.