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Playing Ice Hockey
on Warner's Pond...And Surviving

By R. Rock Ringer, a Concord native and now Multimedia Director for CrossRoads Community Church of Salisbury, NC. He's also founder of Ideas Consolidated, a Christian empowerment organization. As writer, freelance photographer, sales & management consultant, and motivational speaker, Mr. Ringer enlightens and encourages people from all walks of life to achieve personal excellence. He's married 23 years to Linda and has two teenaged girls, Kristina & Andrea. (his email and website)

author and friends on warner's pond, 1960'sWarner's Pond froze by Thanksgiving week in our "good ole days" -- the sixties! A week, then two, of below freezing temperatures, void of sleet or snow, and there she was laid out like a fresh canvas enticing the artist to paint. As we gleefully made our way down the embankment, the giant canvas glistened like the most rare black pearl mirror. She's a true miracle of nature when she happens that way. Pure black ice!

My sister and I struggled to put on skates still stiff and inflexible from their summer-long hibernation. Grampa John had tested the ice for its frozen depth that morning while Gramma Jay had given admonitions about known danger areas of thin ice all the while he was down there. And then he signaled what mattered most to us, "the all clear". Those first strides were magical. Our blades made a delightful, delicate crunching noise while etching the first signs of human presence upon the crystal-like surface. The ice was so smooth and black. As you passed over the homes of water lilies and aquatic plants growing close to the surface they became visible to the naked eye as if enlarged under the lens of a microscope. It was an amazing sight to peer into the life of Warner's. Certainly, enchanting moments for those who had never experienced the miracle that lay before them.

hockey, anyone?My sister would practice creating figure eights like Sonja Henning or the latest Olympic figure skating star, Peggy Fleming. Soon I would be off, effortlessly gliding my imaginary puck along the surface and listening to the joyous "crunch, crunch, crunch" of each stride. I mimicked Bobby Orr making a rink long dash for the goal. My eyes scanned the distance looking for others bearing hockey sticks, those who were now beginning to dot the surface everywhere. I shuffled along with my homemade hockey stick made from a broken broom handle and scrap piece of wood from a pallet fashioned together with electrical tape. The stick would have to make do though anyone could see it was flimsy and impractical. I was anxious to show that gang of boys who lived across from the reformatory a thing or two and this would be my chance.

I had been taking lessons how to skate at the newly built ice rink in Acton. Hockey was becoming the rage throughout all of New England as the Boston Bruins became a contender to the Montreal Canadians for the coveted Stanley Cup. It wasn't long before eight, ten, and then more gathered as if drawn by a hoodlumsmagnet known as the "puck". We made up sides quickly knowing it was those "sons of the prison guards" boys against us "others" who lived below the tracks at Commonwealth Avenue. Oh, I remember them well, for in my mind they were a tight bunch of rough and tumble "hoodlums" as close as, say, "The Soprano's" are known today.

I can remember many days coming home from school pressed close in the aisles, hot breath whispering threats beyond the bus drivers earshot, then scrambling from the bus, running for my life as I had provoked one of them for some frivolous reason. There were the Henderson brothers: Donny, Johnny, Mack, and Jackie Trumbull and his brother and my nemesis, Tommy McDuffy. It was tough living on the so-called "wrong side of the tracks" in those days; the stigma that was like an indelible label warning others to stay away from indigents like us. It's funny how years later they all seemed to turn out as great guys with wonderful families and respectable jobs for the most part. Anyway, in those days it was seemingly life and death from day to day, moment to moment.

he takes the shot!We quickly set up goal posts marked by a pair of boots, warmed up and we got down to the business of real competition. Our side was quickly down a goal as the bigger and more organized contenders moved around, over and through us like we were a bunch of flat footed wusses, all the while cajoling us. Then it happened, my moment for glory, a loose puck caromed onto the blade of my stick and I pressed into action moving deftly around one, then two players. Next, the puck slipped from the weakened blade and before I skated past it, I kicked it back to the blade and made my way to within fifteen feet, wound up and fanned the shot entirely. I quickly regrouped, focused and had time to get off another attempt and this time caught it flat on the heel, driving it hard along the surface, past the goalie and through the boots.

"Score! Scccccooooooooorrrrrrrrreeeeeee!" came the shouts from my enthused teammates but before the glory of the moment was well at hand, the puck had slid past everyone for what seemed eternity and then perilously sailed into the area of thin ice, finally slowing but still gliding until it dropped from sight along the murky edge. Terror gripped my heart as I had now committed the unforgivable! "Oh, no," I thought to myself, knowing this was most certainly cause for the death sentence. "You lost our only puck over find it!" came the threats from everyone.

One chance to redeem myself and, despite the fear, I made my way cautiously across the thinning ice and to the edge where no other dared to tread. But it was hopeless and the puck could not be found. There was only one thing left for me to do! Skate for my life and I did. I skated fast as the wind while the whole gang chased me endlessly until the last long and distant rays of sunlight began to fade. Cold and exhausted, I finally made it back to my grandmother's where her persistent calls rang out, "Bobby--Boooobbyyyy!". The others gave up the chase and let me go with a few final threats. Ice fishing with Grampa John began to sound like an excellent alternative in the coming days.

Photos: From the author's collection, ©2003
Drawings: Art Today.

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