Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Ice Skating Adventures
I never could skate very well. Dad was the skater in the family. He could race across the ice, powerfully gliding and turning on his hockey skates with such ease the effort was never evident. He skated backwards equally as well, the blades’ contact with the ice offering the only sound.
Dad taught me to skate at an early age, but I was never comfortable with it. Weak ankles. I got good enough to join in impromptu hockey games with the other kids, but spent more time staying on the skates than playing hockey.
My sister Debbie never learned to skate, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Dad would take her to the creek south of town, find a smooth spot, and lead Deb around on her skates, encouraging her to take steps, push off, glide, but the lessons never took. I’m not sure she ever got so she could stand by herself for any length of time on her own. Dad never quit trying to teach her, though.
We used to go out to Uncle Willmer’s dam, a few miles west of town to skate. The dam was sheltered and the ice was usually smooth. Dad would be the first one on the ice, anxious to skate, and would make a big circle around the body of ice, waiting for the rest of us to get ready. One day, casually skating along, his pipe in his mouth, he glided to the south end of the dam where the creek flowed into it. Bent over, gliding along, suddenly his feet flew up and he landed on his back with a thud we could hear across the ice. I remember looking up and seeing him holding his nose, looking up at something dangling in front of him. I skated over to him as he was standing up, now holding his handkerchief to his nose. I asked what had happened. He turned and grabbed a strand of barbwire that was stretched about chest high across the ice. It must have been part of an old fence that had been stretched across the creek at some time, and was hard to see against the sheen of the ice. Dad had caught the tip of his nose on a barb, and the wire flipped him off his skates and onto his back. Our skating for that day was over. Dad’s nose had a small cut on the tip of it, and it stung, but after a tetanus shot he was ready to go.
We rode often in the winter when the weather would have a break, and our favorite place to ride was along the creek south of town, the one that we skated on. We could cross over the creek on a narrow bridge, then ride up along the bluffs above the creek. The bluffs ran east to the pasture fence, then dropped down to the creek again. We usually would turn back and retrace our ride, but one day we decided to cross over on the frozen creek. Part of the channel had reeds sticking out of the frozen stream, and they provided secure footing, but there was a twenty foot part of the creek that was smooth ice. Dad said we’ll lead the unshod horses across, it should be alright. It was for him and his horse, but when I led my little unshod mare onto the clear ice, she started slipping and sliding, her feet moving like she was part of a cartoon, going like mad but not getting anywhere. A dangerous situation, but it looked so funny all I could do was stand there and laugh. She finally made it across, and looked extremely relieved, wondering what had just happened. Dad didn’t laugh until we were halfway home. It scared him, thinking of that mare going down on the ice. I would think of the image of her furiously trying to move, and not getting anywhere, and I would start laughing again. Needless to say, we always turned around and rode back the way we came whenever we went riding along the creek from that time on. Dad couldn’t teach Debbie to skate, and he sure wasn’t going to try and teach the horses to, either.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the July 24, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News