The View from Mary's Farm - On The Pond January 2016
January 17, 2016My 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.