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The View from Mary's Farm

The View from Mary's Farm - On The Pond January 2016

January 17, 2016

My grandfather, who we called Bim, loved to skate. He loved to do anything outdoors. He climbed the Matterhorn, surfed in Honolulu, and did back flips off the high diving board up until he was in his seventies. But his enduring love was pond hockey. I was just little but going out to the pond near his house to watch him play with the young men of the neighborhood was a clear memory and always a thrill. He was like a magnet, a big man who arrived at the pond with his skates and hockey stick, a puck in his pocket. He wore a cardigan sweater over a flannel shirt, a necktie, and a hat with ear flaps hanging loose, mad bomber style. His pants were big and roomy and his leather gloves gripped his stick.
As soon as Bim got his skates laced, the boys would come out of the rushes as if a whistle had been blown. With a shovel, he would skate-clean the ice and a couple of goals would be created using bushel baskets. I liked watching him churn down the ice, boys chasing. I got a certain giggly thrill out of seeing him outskate the boys who swarmed around him as he slapped the puck into the goal.
These Saturday games were not particularly regular but once the word went out, a small crowd would gather to watch the competition. A couple of boards balanced on a couple of rocks made good-enough bleachers and that’s where I would be along with my sister and our mother. Teams, I think, were four on four or, I seem to remember, one boy and my grandfather against four others. I also seem to remember that my grandfather always won. But that could be my untarnished memory of the man.
An early photograph captured my sister and me on either side of our smiling grandfather, skating on the pond. We were probably five and six. Bim is holding his hockey stick, my sister gripping one end of the stick and me on the other. I’m pretty sure this is how we learned to skate. He’d skate between and coach us as we glided along. We learned to balance on our figure skates and how to stroke the ice with the blades as we moved forward. A better way to learn was just to watch him skate. With the grace of a swan, he’d slide forward and then swirl back, creating sprays of ice dust in his wake. He would skate furiously from one end of the pond to the other, crossing one foot over the other to gain speed. And then he would turn and skate backwards, his two hands clasped behind his back, easy as pie. For Bim, nothing on ice seemed like an effort; it was all sheer joy. Skating was something we could do together on a cold winter’s day. The pond always felt like it was our own, the ice carved out of the vast frozen tundra just for us.
My grandfather was a modern man, a man who would likely embrace every innovation of this post-modern age. He owned the first car in his town (a 1908 Buick), the first pair of skis, and if he were here today, he would likely have an Apple watch on his wrist, looking up the secrets of the universe while he skated backwards. It was only a few years after my sister and I wobbled around, hanging on to his hockey stick, that Bim died. We were all in disbelief. He was everybody’s patriarch, everybody’s hero. We thought he would live forever and continue to teach us and outskate us. Maybe he still is doing that.

Selected Works

In 1992, the Bishop of Worcester condemned St. Joseph's Catholic Church and ordered it closed. The parishioners refused to leave, sleeping on cots and on the hard pews. For thirteen months this was their life. In July of 1993, they were removed by the police. In many ways this was the blossoming of their faith. Originally published in Yankee Magazine in November 1993.
Growing up, nothing I could do seemed to please my mother and nothing she said made sense to me. But when my mother, on the threshold of death, came to live with me, I found what seemed to have been lost forever. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1995
(The follow-up article to Miracle at St. Joseph's.) The Bishop turned to them and said, "Your prayers have been answered, the hard hearts have softened." Originally published in Yankee Magazine, December 1996
A reflection on the power of cooking and friendship and the concept of family. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, November/December 2007
Memorial Day, Harrisville, New Hampshire 1995. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1996
My Articles
Libraries occupy a special place in the heart of a town. Evening events at the library give a strong sense of community and make it seem like a great place to live. And in the wake of the online revolution small town libraries have found a way to not only survive but to be indispensable.
In December 2008 an epic ice storm left virtually the entire state of New Hampshire without power. The residual effects of that storm paralyzed the Monadnock Region almost through Christmas. A first person account.
In 1994, sixteen-year-old Billy Best was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. After several treatments, he ran away to avoid chemotherapy. What happened after that may have been a miracle.
Roxanne Quimby once lived primitively in the Maine woods. Today she owns 90,000 acres of those woods, and her goal is to create a national park to preserve the landscape forever. So why do so many people wish she'd just go away?
Multi-million dollar border stations are rising along our line between US and Canada. What was once the "friendliest border" has become deadly serious.
Renowned short story writer, Andre Dubus, reflects on the accident that cost him his legs.
A trip to Poland discovers a beloved family friend
An elegy for the master of the short story.
Fall comes to The County
Thousands seek healing from this innocent, comatose child.
A complete listing of articles published since 1978
An encounter with a sick fox brings a young woman to the heart of her grief