Random Thoughts

Skating season

... in Melrose, everybody skated

by Ann Robbins Talbot

My first winter in Melrose, I was in fourth grade. I had a pair of double runner skates that buckled onto my shoes. They looked like tiny silver sleds with red straps. Bundled up in a wool jacket, bulky wool pants and a knitted hat and mittens, I trudged down to Lincoln School to learn to skate. In the playground there was a rink built with wooden sides about twelve inches high mounded with dirt. The fire department had sprayed water frequently to make layer upon layer of ice, so there was no danger of falling in. By the time I sat on the side of the rink and buckled on my skates, my hands were freezing. I watched people of varying ability skate by and finally stood up to try my luck. It was quite different from roller skating, but I managed to get myself around the rink without falling. I unbuckled my skates and ran home, bursting into the house shouting I can skate! In my home, skating was a big deal.

Melrose was fortunate to have many small wooded ponds that freeze early in the winter season. On a weekend my whole family would go to skate on Checkerberry in the Fells. I would practice my limited skating skills holding onto someone who skated backwards. In my near future was a pair of shoe skates handed down from a neighbor. I had visions of skating backwards myself, graduating to figure eights. However forward and backward were the only techniques I ever learned, but I was hooked on skating.

On Christmas morning, while my mother minded the turkey and vegetables, the rest of the family went skating because someone always needed to try out a new pair of skates from Santa. And everyone would get new skating socks. It seemed that mother would be knitting maroon tube socks all fall in readiness for the winter. The custom was to wear regular socks plus wool socks under your skates to keep your feet warm. But after a couple of hours on the ice, feet froze anyway.

My birthday was in February. Several times my mother took me into Boston Garden to the Ice Follies. When I saw the lights and the costumes, I was amazed. All these years later I remember Frick and Frack and the Old Smoothies and the long precision line that swung across the ice, gathering one girl at a time. The last girl had a tough time holding on. I skated a few times on artificial ice at Lynn Arena, but it did not make me instantly graceful like the skaters in the show.

When I attended Melrose High, I went to Pilgrim Fellowship at the downtown Congregational Church. Many a Sunday evening was spent skating at the rink at Mount Hood. There was an older couple who looked like they were dancing as they skated, just like the ice show. One of our group was a regular clown wearing thick suspenders over his jacket and pretending to trip and fall flat to the amusement of all. Sometimes the boys would ask us to skate and we would go round and round holding hands separated by thick mittens.

Through the years I had watched my brothers play on the high school hockey team. The old GBI League played at Boston Garden. When I got to MHS, I would go into North Station with my friends on the train. We would jam into one car and be noisy and energetic especially when we won. Several times we brought in the entire band and the cheerleaders did their formations in the horizontal aisles. When the ice shows were in town, we played at the Boston Arena. We would walk past a night club that advertised my favorite, Sarah Vaughn. I would sort of poke around hoping to see her, but she was probably asleep in a downtown hotel. Aside from the game, which I loved, I was fascinated by the Zamboni. Even now, when I use the snow blower in my driveway, I recreate the Zamboni patterns as they scraped the ice and put down the layer of hot water.

But the greatest fun was skating on Ell Pond. We would play Snap the Whip or skate from shore to shore with our friends. When the boys finished playing pond hockey, they would come to find their girlfriends for a final skate. Holding on to the end of a hockey stick, I would glide across the ice with the cold wind in my face making my eyes water. Freezing fingers and toes were forgotten in the thrill of speeding in the darkness, living in the moment, making an indelible memory of my teen years.

December 5, 2008

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