On the anticipation meter for any kid, there are two clear frontrunners: Christmas and the end of the school year.
The third favourite for many kids, depending on who you talk to, is the first skate of fall.
Autumn was a busy time of year when I grew up. All hands were needed to complete swathing, combining, and harrowing before everything was packed away for winter.
As temperatures dropped in late October and early November, it was ritual for us to start suggesting to Dad that it was time to check the ice. Some days quietly, some days more loudly, we would push a little more that it was time.
When action from Dad was not forthcoming, heavy discussions with kids on the bus and the neighbour kids elicited worldly analysis of all things ice.
“It must be good.”
“Have you checked around your place?”
“It’s supposed to get really cold tonight.”
“Did you hear? John said they went skating last night.”
Many school days ended the same way. Blackie Koob would pilot us home in the big yellow school bus. He would get to our yard at 4:15 p.m. on a good day, 4:35 p.m. on a slow day. We would barrel out of the bus and trek down our driveway to the house. We had to hurry. It was the time of the day when daylight dwindled.
“Can we check the ice?” we’d ask.
Dad had laced up a few skates in his day, and he always was nearly spot on in announcing when it was finally time. The ice was ready.
The first skate involved a lot of pre-skate preparations. A bale or two were placed in our truck box to serve as our bench and to give us a place to lace up, along with a bundle of firewood from the surrounding bush. Some years we even used the wood to build a fire.
Skates, sticks, pucks, balls and homemade nets that were measured, nailed, and taped — certified kid ready — were on the back of the truck. The moment had arrived.
Once we were stacked inside Dad’s Chevy half ton, we drove across the grid road, into Lufkin’s field, and down the hill. With all the feel of a VIP tour, the moment had arrived.
There is nothing quite so beautiful as a clean, smooth, sheet of ice. When the laces were tied, the hockey stick taped and clutched in mitted hands, a puck stowed in your coat pocket, and you took that first stride on the frozen water, Christmas and the end of the school year be darned.
Let the games begin.