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Local View: May all winters be recalled as magical

In 1968, Peggy Fleming was the only American athlete to bring home a gold medal during the Winter Olympic Games. She won her medal in the ladies' singles figure-skating competition. Our family was probably more attentive to the games that year be...

In 1968, Peggy Fleming was the only American athlete to bring home a gold medal during the Winter Olympic Games. She won her medal in the ladies' singles figure-skating competition. Our family was probably more attentive to the games that year because it was the first year the Olympics were televised in color. Because we lived in a rural area, television was my only means of watching the artful beauty of figure skating.

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Doris Rauschenbach

My parents owned a corner lot in Ashland, and we worked as a family to make our own ice-skating rink the following year. My big brothers Del, Lou, and Mark wanted the rink for hockey. My younger sister, Laurie, wanted to use the shoveled hills for sliding. I dreamed of becoming a famous ice skater with a sparkling costume.

Making a rink wasn't a fast process, especially for kids. In the wintertime, the sun set by 5 p.m., so what little light we had came from the lamp on the electrical pole at the intersection. After their homework was done, my brothers started with the heavy work. They shoveled the 40-foot-by-40-foot square, piling up the snow on the sides and leaving a minimal layer of snow on the frozen grass. Once the area was cleared, we had to wait until after supper when Dad could help with flooding.

Dad used a flashlight to see while he hooked up a garden hose to our outdoor water spigot. As he watered down each area, we kids stamped down the snow until the area became a shallow lake of mush. The hilly sides also were watered down. That was necessary to form an icy edge to keep future floodwaters within the square. I remember getting a little overeager, and I got my clothes wet. After changing into dry clothes, I watched through the window from the warmth of the kitchen the silhouettes of my dad and three big brothers stomping around in our rink.

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The second flooding went a little faster. I watched Dad prep the hose while the boys shoveled away the fresh snow, kicking at the icy peaks. I remember feeling thankful nobody asked me to help.

The rink was mainly used for hockey. We had little money back then, so instead of a goalie net, the boys made a square-shaped indentation on each end of the rink. They sprayed water on the snowbanks to form the backs and sides of the goals.

After four floodings, our rink was ready for skates. The neighborhood kids flocked to our yard.

Nobody owned any protective gear back then. The boys dressed in two pairs of pants, heavy coats, and knit caps. They wore black figure skates.

In the darkened evenings it was especially hard to find a lost puck because every footprint and indentation in the snow looked black. The boys would have to find it, though, because there weren't many extra pucks, if any. The sticks never lasted more than half the season. When they broke, they'd have to piece them back together using screws and electrical tape.

To pick teams, Del and Lou were usually the captains. As for refs, the boys played by what they agreed to be the rules. If there were disputes, they were usually solved through the use of fists and power.

There was little adult supervision. Dad worked long hours, and Mom was busy taking care of my baby sister, Shell, and all the things needed for a family of eight. With hockey a rough sport, it was surprising nobody ever got seriously hurt. There are stories of kids swinging their sticks at each other, pucks slammed hard enough to break an ankle, and, of course, plenty of bumps and bruises. Not to forget, the rink sides were watered down, so when the boys checked someone, they checked them into solid walls of ice.

The times were rarer when I skated on our rink. I'd open my upstairs bedroom window and set my .45 rpm record player near the window, playing the same record over and over. I needed to do that to choreograph my routine. I remember how I practiced the basic forward spiral. I'd try to avoid the icy bumps while I wobbled forward on one foot, trying to balance my body, with my arms stretched wide.

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Times have changed since my childhood skating days. Community rinks and organized sports have replaced the need for backyard rinks. Children are taught to skate at an early age - that is, if they want to eventually make a team. Boyhood battles are settled by the adults, who are always watching.

Who knows what the children today will say about their childhoods 40 years from now. Even though they may have the best coaches and hockey equipment - and, for the girls, sparkling dresses - I want to believe their memories will be as magical as mine. When they play, I hope they imagine themselves as champions, winning the hockey game with a wrister into the net, or being an Olympic gold medalist, dancing with elegance in their white figure skates.

 

Doris Rauschenbach is a writer in Ashland. She can be reached at   doris.author@gmail.com or at P.O. Box 267, Ashland, WI 54806. She can be followed on Facebook at facebook.com/doris.rauschenbach .

Related Topics: HOCKEY
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