Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Long Long Time Ago


At home this weekend, visiting my folks in the house I grew up in. Twenty seven below this morning and enough snow that it would lead the National if this were in Toronto.

Its cold.

You walk outside and it takes your breath away. Your nostrils stick together and when you spit it hits the frozen ground and bounces. The sky goes on forever, black black black and the stars look like they are sitting right on top of you. Its dark at 4 and it seems like you are on another planet, silent except for the squeak of your boots on the packed snow. Even the cars are silent, gliding past like ghosts, giving the odd groan in the cold.

Just two streets over there's the old playground rink. It was the centre of our winters growing up. Every neighbourhood in the city had one when we were kids. Nearly every kid in the city played playground hockey growing up until about twenty years ago when the city introduced an indoor recreational league. Indoor hockey killed the playground leagues. Faced with standing on snowbanks surrounding the rinks in thirty below weather and standing in the lobby of a heated arena parents made a pretty easy choice.

I played and coached in the playground leagues. It was crazy. Whatever the weather you would play. Thirty below and you would play and the parents would be out there cheering. I coached seven year olds and they were out there, no matter how cold. Maybe five minutes in the shack to warm up between periods and then back out, shivering on the benches which were boxed in by thin plywood, waiting for their turn to spin around the ice in front of the cheering crowd. When it snowed heavily the parents would come down between periods and shovel the ice. After the games it was into the shack to change out of skates and drink hot chocolate from the canteen.

And every winter there would be the carnival, a weekend which included hockey and ringette tournaments (you'd invite two patsies and a close rival to guarantee a riproaring final), a party for the parents one night in the shack, games of all sorts, raffles, barbeques (my dad and my best friend's dad always took a shift), music playing and everyone in the neighbourhood out celebrating, forgetting about winter for one weekend at least.

A lot of the old rinks are torn down now although this one is still standing. I'll probably walk the dog over and see if the neighbourhood dads have flooded it for their sons and daughters just as our dads once did, maintaining it through the winter. When we were growing up we spent our weekends there, our evenings there.

Things move on and that's fine. They have to. That is the way of the world.

But the playground rink was a damn good thing and this city misses it, I think. I certainly do.

9 comments:

Swabbubba said...

Nothing like skating on natural ice, the crunch of snow. It is pretty damn nippy here in Cow town almost as cold as Dallas is for Avery. Hope the boys turn it on for the Nucks. I see Penner and Cole backsliding into the funk

amw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
amw said...

The neighbourhood rink holds fond memories for me as a kid. We didn't play too much outside because there was usually indoor ice to be had. But on those days we did -- it was magic.

Today, we have an outdoor rink nearby and I take the kids every so often. There's the usual collection of overly-skilled rink rats, wee kids pushing chairs and old guys like me trying to roof it on an empty net.

Once in a while a goalie will show up (with pads!) and the intensity really picks up. He usually leaves after the rats start head-hunting, as do we, leaving for the safety of the kiddie rink behind the shack...

-29 now (windchill = -38!) so we'll need to be satisfied by replaying the highlights from last night over and over on Oiler TV. Nice win, good to see Rollie with the clean sheet.

Traktor said...

What a great post.

One of my earliest memories as a child is out on the rink with my old man. I was just learning how to skate and I fell and hit my head and I remember my dad taking me to the creamery (a little ice cream joint in Lacombe) and telling me he will buy me whatever I want, just don't tell me mom that I hit my head. I couldn't have been more than 3 or 4 years old. I also vividly remember when I first learned how to stop I was so excited that I stood in the corner, took 2 steps and stopped and repeated this until I reached 500 stops. There had to be a dozen or so causal skaters that must have thought I was crazy. Great times.

Black Dog said...

good stuff Traktor - I took my kids sliding last winter and the boy ended up with a bloodied nose and my response was similar to your Dad's


we're registering our kids for skating tomorrow so we'll be heading to the neighbourhood rink ourselves pretty soon

Good Muckin' Tonite said...

There was nothing better than getting bundled up, throwing your hockey sweater over your winter coat, and putting gloves inside gloves (inside gloves). Some of my favourite memories are of lacing up the skates and half running/half skating down the frozen snow path to the rink door. The sound of pucks blasting off of the wooden boards heard streets away was the sound of hockey season, which was the sound of winter. Thanks for bringing back the memory.

rananda said...

I grew up in a sleepy suburb outside of Los Angeles in the mid-80's. Gretzky was still a few years away, and i think I was 11 before i saw snow on the ground for the first time. The world you describe is a pretty distant one for me. Pretty cool, though.

Julian said...

Fuck Pat, you're makin' me misty eyed. All the way over here on an island off China, and the rest of my family and friends in Ontario just minutes from multiple homemade ice rinks.

sigh.

Black Dog said...

Sorry Julian.

Nothing like it in the world, I would say.