Outside in the backyard of an older, prewar two-story stucco house on a quiet street in Port Colbourne Ontario, the sun has just gone down. It is mid November and there is a foot or two of snow on the ground. In 1967 the winter came early and strong. We had gotten here in the summer, having had to move suddenly from Atlanta Ga. at the end of the school year.
I’m standing on the makeshift skating rink my grandfather has spent the previous night and most of this day creating. He came home from the nickel plant – the factory job he had been working double shifts and splits at for the past few years..got home around midnight and just started working in the backyard. He used a sheet of plywood 4’x5′ and a snow shovel. First marking out a rectangle about 25’x35′ in the snow, then creating a berm about a foot high with the shovel. Then he began to level the snow inside the berm by dragging one long edge of the plywood sheet like a scraper until the snow was relatively flat..finally dragging the plywood board over the snow by a length of rope fastened to two corners of the board like a long handle. This part of the process had to be repeated with more snow shoveled into the rink area from the yard each time until he was satisfied. Then it had to be flooded with water.
Being November and the daytime temperature not more than 15-20 degrees, flooding the rink was also a pain in the ass. You cant use the outdoor hose bib because it is frozen..and it would only access cold water if it weren’t, and that cold water would just freeze inside the hose in a minute or two anyway. Nope.
You have to hook the hose to the kitchen faucet in this case, run the hose out from the kitchen window and use the hot water tap. Naturally if you start running hot water onto that nice smooth snow you just spent hours working on – well that’s no go. You need to use a sprinkler at first. Once you have a nice crust of ice all over the rink surface you can remove the sprinkler and just let the water flow from the hose end and flood the area…you only have to re-position the hose a couple of times if you are lucky or good at this. Meanwhile the hose is freezing up every 10 or 15 minutes even with the hot water from the tap. So – as soon as the flow is stopped by the frozen water in the hose you have to try and break up the ice inside the hose without splitting it..once you can roll the hose up you take it in the house and boil it. I think he would bring out a pot of hot water and pour it over the hose as he rolled it up. Once the hose was cleared of ice the process of flooding the rink could continue…Pain in The ASS, right?. Grandpa Joe was a good man.
So now I have my skates on, the stars are out….it is a cold clear night. I can smell the ice and the snow and the friction tape on the wooden Sherwood hockey stick in my hand. I’ve just wrapped the blade and made a knob on the top end like the big kids do, like the pros do, like you’re supposed to. I can smell dinner cooking next door and from a few other houses on our street – a nice blend of cooked meats and sauces and baked bread…Our dinner is cooking too but my brother and I just had to skate on the new rink one time before we went inside to eat. We had been waiting for this moment since October when grampa first mentioned he might do it. I am going to be 7 years old in a few days…1967 was a long, long, lifetime or two ago.