Learning to Skate
I learned how to skate when I was ten years old. We were living in Carmanville, Newfoundland, at the time. The year was 1960 and even though I do not remember the exact day and month, I do remember the day itself. It was one of those bright, sunny and cold days, sometime in January or February. The whole harbour had been frozen over for some time and the ice, for the most part, was as smooth as glass.
My parents had picked up two or three pairs of second-hand skates from somewhere, hoping they would fit us three older kids, Roger, myself and Elizabeth. The pair that fit me best were like racing skates, with the low boot back and the longer blade. Anyway, I was determined that I was going to learn how to skate so I picked them up this fine day and headed down to the beach beside Eli Green’s wharf. Eli and Mildred Green were our next door neighbours and Eli owned a small grocery store right across the road from our place. The Post Office was right along side there as well. It was run by Mr. Jim Blackwood. As I recall there was a Chesley Howell that lived right there beside the Post Office and this is where I decided to put my skates on, right in front of his house. It was pretty cold that day and after almost freezing my poor little fingers off getting the skates laced up, I was finally able to make that first big step.
Well sir, there was nothing to it. I was not very graceful for the first few strides but at least I was skating. Now the fact that my skates were bent in so that my ankles were almost touching the ice did not help matters much so I tightened them up a little more. This of course was cutting off some of the circulation to my feet so now my feet were freezing. I put up with it for a little while but went home knowing that I could skate. The next time I went I put on an extra pair of socks. This helped a little but it didn’t really matter, I was having fun.
At high tide the ice along the shore from out near the Government wharf and on in bottom was usually fairly smooth. This was where we usually played around. It was even more fun when the tide was low as the ice would settle down over the rocks in close to shore creating little hills to skate over. There was also a bit of competition among us young fellows to see who could jump the farthest by skating as fast as we could and using the little ice mounds as ramps.
There were places where there were rocks sticking up through the ice, some open water holes, sticks sticking up and soon. As a result, it got to be a lot of fun playing follow the leader around these obstacles, especially when there were girls playing with us. Other times we would hang onto each other’s coat tails and see who would hang on the longest.
On windy days, when the temperature wasn’t too cold, we would skate out past the Government wharf and once we were out in the middle of the harbour, we would unzip our jackets, grab onto each end of our coat tails and flip it up over our heads making a sort of a sail. The wind would then whisk us along at a pretty good clip. Of course this would always lead to a race amongst us boys. There always had to be competition amongst us…who could skate the fastest, who could jump the farthest, who had the fastest sled, who could run the fastest. There was even a time when we competed about who had the flattest and smoothest brush cut.
Anyway, we wouldn’t just scote our guts out just to come back in to Eli’s wharf, oh no, we had to go right on into the bottom of the harbour. It made for a longer ride of course but it also meant a lot more work getting back out to Eli’s wharf. The fun thing about going on in bottom was the fact there was the skeleton of an old schooner there. It was kind of fun skating in and out and around the schooner’s ribs sticking up through the ice.
Now came the time to head back home. We were usually tired out by the time we played around in bottom and there was that awful wind we had to face skating back out the harbour. We soon learned how to skate backwards. And another thing we learned was to take our boots with us, which we laced together and hung around our neck. Now when we had to go home from in bottom all we had to do was put our boots on and walk home. This was so much easier, and warmer to say the least.
I haven’t mentioned any names of those of us who used to go skating, but I expect there would be my brother Roger, my sister, Elizabeth, Ross Collins, Larry Collins, Pansy Collins, Fern Blunden, Pam Collins, Wally and Ellis Russell and probably others I have already forgotten.
Another place we used to go skating,, instead of out on the harbour, was a big marsh up behind the manse. This was a little more fun as the waterways were like roads and you had something to skate around. Another advantage of skating in on the bogs and marshes was you got to explore a lot of places you couldn’t get to in the summertime.
Looking back on all those fun times we had out on the frozen bays, harbours, ponds and bogs around Newfoundland, makes skating in an indoor rink seem kind of dull and boring, wouldn’t you agree?