It’s hot. Think winter

In the heat of the summer, as the grass turns brown from lack of water and the temperatures hover above 100, let’s escape to the dead of winter in the hills of New York where I spent my childhood.

Think frost on the windows and air so cold you can see a tiny cloud every time you breathe.

The north wind blows over the hills, covering them with snow just right for sledding and cooling the water in the farm ponds and creeks until a thick layer of ice forms for skating.
Cold weather whispers that time has come for a new sled or a pair of ice skates.
Christmas morning, sitting there in pajamas with my new skates, I felt the stiff edge of the solid, metal blade attached to the bottom of the white leather boot and planned a trip to the pond.

If snow followed the pond-freezing cold snap, my cousins, brothers, sisters and I gathered brooms and shovels to take to the pond to clear the ice. If we didn’t get all the snow off and it melted even a bit, the surface became a crackly, crusty layer that crumbled beneath the skate blades. Not very fun or very safe.

The boys especially spent a lot of time shoving snow aside with the barn broom and scraper. With even the barest of paths through the snow, the guys strapped on skates and raced each other to clear even more.
I sat down, tugged off my winter boots and eagerly pulled on my skates. No matter how cold the day, or urgent the wish to skate, the row upon row of hooks had to be securely laced before stepping onto the ice.

Standing up, I did a mental adjustment to keep the blades of steel upright, with me on top. Although falling on the ice hurt one’s dignity, the fear of falling never dominated. With the eagerness of youth, I ventured out to the clear ice, and dug the crinkled tip of the blade into the ice to propel me forward. A glide, a correction when the other foot wandered sideways and I reveled in the freedom of skimming over the surface of the pond.

That feeling of freedom compelled my mother, as a teen, to return to her dad’s farm pond all by herself. As the youngest child left at home, living out in the country, she could not just call up a friend to go with her. But she still wanted to go, so her mother, then in her late 50s, would wrap up in scarves, gloves and heavy woolen coat and plod out to the pond just to make sure her youngest safely skated solo. Ice skating is that fun.
In spite of the work to clear the snow, that fun of skating pulled us back time and again to the pond. However, after the school-free holidays, the time at school and the daily bus rides made it increasingly difficult to keep the ice clean, but the hills of snow always ensured fun.

One year the Christmas gifts included a bobsled. The five of us, still wearing our pajamas, gathered beside the tree and posed for the camera. We sat on the sled, pretending to be leaning hard as we charged down the hill. But, pretending never substituted for doing. We quickly dressed, bundled up in long johns, snow pants, heavy socks, sturdy mittens, hats and scarves and re-convened on the top of the steep hill behind the house.
The wind and the cold, if not the climb, ensured glowing, rosy, red faces.

Sitting down together on the bobsled at the top of the hill, we grinned, ready to initiate our sled with this first ride.  Lining up one behind the other, we shoved off, snow flying left and right as we carved a path down the hill to the dip and slight rise at the bottom where the sled went airborne for a split second before coming down with a jolt.

It was a blast of fun for everyone – except me. I felt that jolt all the way through me and refused to consider it again. The rest of the kids spent the day out in the cold, tromping up the hill and sledding down with the bobsled, saucers and our Flexible Flyers, sleds with runners.

I went home, shed my winter coat, snow pants, boots, scarves and mittens and grabbed my favorite gift – a book – and spent the rest of the day reading.

A pretty comfortable way to spend any afternoon in the cold of winter . . . or the heat of summer