Skating and warm mittens were a way of life, and hot chocolate was life’s reward.

The talk about the Plymouth Youth Foundation looking for space to set up its portable skating rink for free public skating has gotten me thinking about skating as a kid, which seems to be how most people are responding to the idea – it brings back nostalgic memories of simpler times, kids and families skating outside in the winter and having some real outdoor fun.

Those of us who somehow survived without helicopter parents protecting us from every knee nick and nose bleed recall well tying our laces together, slinging our skates over a shoulder and trooping off to the local skating pond. I can barely recall scenes of one parent or the other lacing my skates onto my feet over thick wool socks when I was a wee lad. I well recall doing the same for myself when I wasn’t quite so wee.

I learned to skate on Gibson Pond in Bristol, Rhode Island, where I grew up as a little kid. The scenario remains vividly embedded after all the years. It was a small pond, but I was also small, so it seemed bigger than it was. It was a shallow pond in a swamp in the woods off the road. Today it would be called a wetlands. But back then, to us kids in Bristol Highlands, it was simply Gibson Pond, just down Gibson Road, which my brother, Steve, and I would walk after traversing a short path to a short road that dead-ended diagonally opposite our road’s dead end.

Everyone knew everyone there. The parents knew the other parents in the neighborhood, and we kids knew the other kids from our elementary school, which sat further down the road and around the corner. Some of my dearest memories from way back when stemmed from life in and around Rockwell School, where I attended kindergarten and first- and second-grades. The scenes of us kids and parents and dogs skating at Gibson Pond could have inspired a Rockwell painting. Thick wool socks, thick wool hats, thick wool mittens – much of which our mothers or grandmothers knit for us.

My sister, Laurie, continues the knitting tradition. She wasn’t with us then – she was a happy thought 14 years after I was born – but she adopted and has clung to the simple way of life from those days, much more than I. She’s quite the knitter. She knits endlessly in her North Country home, surrounded by 50 acres of blueberries, woods and varmints. She has dozens of knitting buds, many of whom she knows from online knitting groups. I knit a square once. Well, more a trapezoid. I couldn’t knit a trapezoid now if I tried. Meanwhile, Laurie’s family and friends are all very warm. And their sweaters and mittens and scarves are beautiful.

We easily go off on tangents when we think about those simple times. When skating and warm mittens were a way of life, and hot chocolate was life’s reward. Back when I was little we skated around trees and roots, and hid behind groves as we played hide and seek on ice. I remember one time going skating at Gibson Pond and as I stepped onto the ice I went right through to the bottom, which was a whole foot down. I remember thinking how very awesome that was, and I was a celebrity for a few minutes – I fell through the ice! – as my father and uncle quickly clustered around me to haul me out and other kids gawked and Steve and my cousin Tom skated free of any idea of concern. I just wanted to skate – no need to go home to change. We never got cold as kids. It was only water. All I cared about was getting out there with Steve and Tom.

I looked up to my brother and cousin so much growing up. I wanted to be just like them. In fact, as I now reflect on it I realize I looked up to them all my life. There’s a certain value we assign to big brothers and big cousins. Steve left us 11 years ago, and I miss him. Tom is still here, thank goodness, and he’s still the same cool guy. Oh, the joy of being the little brother, the younger cousin. Yet I remind myself at times of a role I’m normally not conscious of, that of being the big brother to my little sister, the knitter of the family. I’ve always been the little brother, but I’m also her big brother. She’s a sweet, loving, gentle soul who deserves me being more aware of the big brother thing.

Skating brings out so many connections, so many simple rewards for a reasonable amount of effort. I haven’t skated since my 20s. No particular reason, things just change. I can see getting back on the blades after all these years. If I went to a rink I’m not sure how I’d do with no trees or roots to skate around and hide behind, without nature’s curves to skate to. But it would be fun to find out.

 

Scott C. Smith is GateHouse Media’s managing editor and regional director of multimedia based in the Plymouth newsroom. Email scsmith@wickedlocal.com and follow him on Twitter @scsmithreporter.