The Ice Skating Rink

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Vermont ~ Cooold ~ Deep Snow ~ Outdoor Ice Rink ~ Lights ~ Warming Hut

Vermont backwoods ice rink warming hut 1968

My memories of the rink begin in 1964, 4 years prior to this picture. The ice rink was a magical place at night as the snow fell through the yellow lights sitting atop telephone poles that surrounded the rink. When you were on the ice all you saw were the tree tops silhouetted above the white snow banks. Your focus was on the ice. The only thing besides the ice was the draw to the comfort waiting in the warming shack. After a snow storm the town snow plow would scrape the rink, pushing the snow into high snow banks all around the perimeter of the rink. Then all us kids would shovel and sweep the surface so the town maintenance folks could flood the rink with fresh water. Then we would all crowd into the primitive rustic warming shack where a huge pot belly stove cranked out an unbelievable amount of rejuvenating radiant heat. The shack smelled of wood smoke, was fairly dark inside and had wooden floors, walls and ceiling. Along the back wall was a plain wooden bench which was full of cut marks made by skate blades as people tied their laces. I guess we just abandoned our boots in the shack while we were skating. I don’t remember ever losing them. Hot chocolate was served up at the high wooden bar that ran along the inside front wall between the front doors. The right door was the entrance and the left the exit.

Cars parked behind the rink’s snow bank left of the hut as we are looking at it in this photo. I always approached the rink on foot from the woods behind where the photographer stood when he took this photo. I was eleven in 1964 and one of my strongest memories of that time was about what happened one evening as I was trudging through the snow from my Gram Bs house after supper on my way to the rink. I stayed with Gram B a couple winters while my parents went to sunny Florida to escape the cold. A kid just couldn’t have a better Gram unless your gram happened to be my wife.

So I left Gram’s house and crossed the white snow covered street which was lit by one yellow street light fifty yards up the street on the corner. I walked up the neighbor’s driveway and cut cross-lots behind another neighbor’s house and into the dark woods with my skates hanging around my neck. I was on a hill overlooking the rink some 300 yards away as the crow flys. I could see the rink’s flood lights through the tree branches below me in the distance and I could hear music blaring from the loudspeakers.

The way to the rink was down and left through the woods, traversing the hill and going obliquely away from the rink. At the bottom of the hill the path turned to the right and was a straight shot through the trees to the ice but for scaling the mountain of snow at the edge of the rink. All in all it took about 10 minutes unless I was breaking trail after a storm. Then it could take twice as long or more. Some nights it was pitch black and eleven year olds aren’t known for their patience so sometimes I just slid down the steep part of the hill to the right of the trail and avoided trudging through 2+ feet of new snow.

As I got to the bottom of the hill I could make out the tune they were playing. I didn’t know it but I liked it. It was something completely new and exciting. I couldn’t wait to get into the hut and find out who and what it was. It was “I want To Hold Your Hand.” And it played constantly in a small rotation with Love Me Do etc. every night after that all winter long.

I took my time in the hut because I was damn cold from my journey. I remember the floor of the hut was a deep brown softwood. It was all chewed up and snowy and wet near the entrance due to the constant barrage of skate blades. My mind is overwhelmed with the memory all of the wood, smoke, the subtle lighting, the warmth of that giant black and chrome stove, the hot chocolate, being surrounded by childhood friends, the constant conversing and the rattle of the skate blades and the clomping of blades on the wood floor.

At some point each night a group of us would get a impromptu hockey game together on half the ice. That was fun but my real interest was figure skating. Hockey skates made doing figure skate moves difficult and I eventually talked the powers that be into buying me some proper figure skates with the barbs on the toe. I remember that first night with the new blades. I couldn’t go 10 feet before I would face plant on the ice. It was a long night.

At 9pm closing time I got changed and trudged back through the woods, up the hill and cross-lots back to Grams, wondering what in the hell I had done. I didn’t think I’d ever get the hang of those figure skates. Gram met me as always on the side porch at the kitchen door, ready with a rug and the broom. She brushed the snow off and helped me out of my winter layers. Something felt funny, and not funny ha ha. When we pulled my long sleeved thermal underwear top up over my head Gram gasped. No shit, both elbows were the size of grapefruits! I had stubbornly landed on my elbows for 3 solid hours and never felt it. I guess they were numb. I can’t remember now what we did about it at the time but I did continue to use the new skates and I got pretty good at it over the next couple of winters. I blame my condition on the Beatles. I was engrossed in that melody, rhythm and beat to the point that falling was just a nuisance.

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