In the winter the town would flood the gravel parking lot to give the locals a place to ice skate. Sure the lake was full of ice, but this rink was a nod to the fact that the lake ice was never entirely safe. The parking lot turned rink had a brown wooden shed at the one end where we’d sit to change into our skates, and even though it wasn’t heated we’d go in there to warm up on the especially cold days. It was well known that the parking lot sloped from north to south, which caused the ice to be thicker on the south end and left the north end with barely enough ice to keep your skates from the gravel. If you were skating after a puck and forgot where you were you’d catch a rock and fall, tearing your jacket and bruising your elbows in the process. We tried to stick to the south end of the rink where the better ice was, but our skates still suffered irreparable damage from all of that gravel. We didn’t mind dull skates, in fact, later in life when I skated on smooth ice with sharp skates I found it nearly impossible. As imperfect as this rink was, it suited our crude style of hockey just fine. The youngest kid’s boots marked the goals, the scraped back snow made the walls, and a puck shot out of the rink was usually lost even though we played with a “no lifting” rule. We played at night under the lights and we played during the day. We played when the ice was smooth and when the ice was bad, because none of us had skated indoors so we didn’t know what the ice was supposed to be like. We worked on our hockey stops and our puck handling, and we fancied ourselves real hockey players. We had shin guards, mostly leftover from soccer, and we had gloves and I think maybe one of the kids had a helmet that his mother made him wear. Pucks were hard to come by, and hockey tape was at a premium. One day I checked my friend Eric into the snow bank so hard that he quietly skated back to the brown shed, removed his skates, put on his boots, and walked up the hill to his house without saying a word. I felt terrible, but hockey can hurt feelings and we all knew this. After several years of this hockey playing we all grew up and some of us moved away. The village stopped flooding our rink and now it’s just a place where some people park. But when I drive by it I only see it as a hockey rink, and I’m betting there are at least two dozen forty-something year olds who see it the same way.
(The magazine shorts continue…)