“We’ve gotta flood the bogs. The vines are gonna freeze!” our neighborhood cranberry farmers urgently announced early one winter. That year, the cold arctic blast arrived early in our New England town, bringing with it a good deal of excitement.
News that the bogs would soon be flooded caused a wave of excitement that spread like wildfire through every household. And in anticipation of the eventual freeze, each family began a scavenger hunt for the next-size-up skates.
“Some of these skates won’t fit yet,” my mom advised, as she kept pulling pairs of hand-me-down skates out of the big, old, dome-topped sea chest, harbored upstairs in the attic of our old Cape Cod farmhouse.
“Any skates for me?” I asked, peering over the edge of the huge, tall trunk.
“Sure. We’ll find the double-runner skates you wore last year.”
Soon she was digging through layers of neatly stacked winter clothes, putting them in piles to surround us on the cool linoleum floor.
After what seemed a long time, I heard:
“I found the skates!”
“B-b-but, Mom,” I stuttered, “What’s that?” as she held up strange looking, metal plates with curved edges and what seemed to be big, black, thick, long laces.
“These are your double-runner skates,” she explained, realizing I didn’t remember them from last year. “You won’t tumble with these on.”
It was comforting to think I wouldn’t be sliding, slipping and skidding all over the ice and grabbing my mother’s pant legs (and holding on for dear life).
“But, Mommy, they look so, so … hard … to put on …”
“I’ll put them on for you. We’ll do just fine.”
After pulling out skates for my older brother, then rummaging for out-grown skates to share with others, we separated winter jackets, ski pants, sweaters, mittens and gloves into piles to check later. Then we bounced down the dark-oak staircase with prizes in hand. I felt like sliding backwards down the banister, but that impulse was quickly denied.
Because Canada’s freezing blasts arrived much sooner than in previous years, our “grandparent” bog-farmers began measuring the bog-ice thickness earlier and more frequently. And after many careful inspections, they finally proclaimed, “The bogs are safe enough to skate on today!”
Then, and only then, did neighboring families begin to skate on the iced-over bogs.
“Will these skates really keep me from falling?” I asked Mom while she knelt in the snow adjusting my double-runner skates.
“Yes, but you can always hang onto my hand,” she answered reassuringly. More times than not, I grabbed her pant leg moments after my little independent spirit took over.
We inched onto the smooth, glassy surface, hand-in-hand.
It was our first skate of the season, and the brisk, cold air on my cheeks felt wonderful.
After skating for part of the afternoon somewhat well, I pleaded, “When will I get to wear big-girl skates, Mom?”
“Maybe next year.”
When ice crystals formed on our mittens and gloves, Mom suggested it was time to head home.
Despite our pleas to stay, my older brother, Fred, and I knew Mom was right.
Pushing open our back door, we thumped into the warm kitchen, draped our sopping wet clothing over wood drying racks, and warmed ourselves in front of the oil-burning stove.
Hot cocoa warmed our tummies, and hunger pangs disappeared for a time.
The moist aroma of drying clothes filled our kitchen. Black, buckled boots lined up beside the beige enamel and black stove. Mittens and gloves dangled at the end of the fan-spindled wall clothes rack, as if applauding our gleeful outing.
Mom’s specialty, homemade beef ‘n’ potato stew, made earlier that day, simmered slowly on our stove’s cast-iron back burner.
“Mom, can I help you set the table?”
“I’m starved,” my brother proclaimed.
The back door thudded shut. “I’m home!” Dad called out.
Reports of the day’s exciting events sandwiched our hugs and kisses. Supper was served. Chatter-chomp-chatter. Plates emptied. Chatter-chomp-chatter. Dishes cleared, washed and stacked to dry. Clatter-chatter-clatter. (The men disappeared.)
“Time for beds, sleepyheads!” Mom rhymed all too soon. “Wash up. Brush your teeth. Head upstairs. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Snuggled in cuddly pajamas, our bedtime routine was to kneel and pray at Mom’s knee. As she sat on the edge of her rocking chair, with her hands on ours, she asked me, “Anything you’d like to say to God tonight?”
“Oh, yes! Umm … Thank you God for making winter come early this year … and I hope that cranberry farmers – all over the world – have skating parties for kids!”
Joan E.B. Coombs lives in a small New England town, writes from home, and the only web site she has is the one with a spider in the corner of her office.