There are certain attitudes and phrases we use as we move our corporal vehicles into the senior lane. I had to laugh the first time I saw the commercial where adults are beginning to sound as their parents did years before. One man says that he has noticed recently that he seems to call every child, as his dad once did, “Chief.”
Well, for me, it hasn’t reached that point yet, but I do find myself often looking back to the world I once knew in the late 1950s and early ’60s and then comparing it to what I see around my hometown today.
While my earliest days in Chicago do yield some memories, because we moved to Lima just after I enjoyed my last mouthful of paste as a first-grader at St. Christina’s, most of my childhood memories are Lima ones.
When it comes to Faurot Park, a place of such importance to me growing up, of course, there were so many sandlot baseball games, games now that are extinct on those diamonds on summer mornings and early afternoons. I remember a time when, if you weren’t there by 9 a.m. on a summer morn, you just might find yourself standing on the wrong side of the foul line.
However, once winter descended, that didn’t mean we were done with Faurot until the next thaw. In addition to the sledding on the snow-covered hill to the north, there was something else, something so very rarely seen in winter now at Faurot, skating, on the pond off North Shore Drive. The pond, my pal Ric Stolly, the Deputy Director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry, tells me has been called Skate Lake for years. Given the paucity of skating on any such frozen surface that Stolly tells me has to be 6 inches in thickness to be safe, the name seems a misnomer.
Stolly admits that the past three years haven’t presented enough sustained cold weather for much skating activity with the frigid temperatures we endured the week between Christmas and New Year’s the exception. He does, however, say that he has seen skating a handful of times since he’s assumed his position with the city in 2006.
“Yes, should we receive the right kind of weather, certainly we’ll be glad to host skaters,” said the deputy director. We drill the ice and test it and if we can determine about six inches of freeze, we’ll be a go.”
However, recalling his former life in education for 24 years at Lima Central Catholic, Stolly knows caution is needed when it comes to the decision as to when to open up for skating in much the same way as school administrators must be careful before sending buses out on snowy mornings. Just a single pocket of air under the ice surface could cause a breakthrough, Stolly said.
As for my wintry youthful recollections, it seems to me Skate Lake was ready for skating often. But, of course, as the stereotypical old dude, that just may be in my “the-old-days-were-always-better” way of viewing the world rather than the reality.
I liken this phenomenon to that of Ernest T. Bass of “The Andy Griffith Show.” While so many would swear that actor Howard Morris’s iconic backwoods stone-throwing character appeared in several episodes during the show’s eight-year run, truth be told, Morris’s character appeared in just five episodes over those eight seasons.
Nonetheless, I can conjure up images of frosty Faurot Saturday mornings and those unexpected snow days that gave my mates and I respite from the rigors of solving math story problems and diagramming sentences, and those winter images include a frozen Skate Lake surface.
I remember the challenges of trying to remain upright on chronically weak ankles that have bedeviled me since the beginning of my life’s journey. And, I especially remember my efforts trying to impress the pretty little girls who caught my eye, the same ones who routinely skated circles around me.
And, I remember the change of venue, from the ice to the shelter house and that roaring fire. It was there I thought I could atone for my clumsiness on the ice and curry some favor from the lasses of my youth, for I surely could talk a whole lot better than I could skate!
I think those moments were so special because, even given the inadequacies of a child’s perspective, I do think we understood how special those skating moments were at the time. While I don’t think we ever could have imagined winters where the ice never adequately thickens, as happens now, we were prescient enough in our thoughts to know that the ice we used, some for skating and others like me for falling, would, like Frosty himself, eventually fall prey to rising temperatures and the warmth of the sun.
Perhaps in the next eight weeks or so, there’ll be some justification to calling that body of water beside Derby Hill the Skate Lake again and provide kids a place to gather and gabble and make a memory, one that years from now will crease their faces with the same kind of smile I had in writing this.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.