Much to the contrary of my lovely wife, I am a winter person — always was and always will be. Perhaps it’s my French-Canadian heritage. My paternal grandfather was born in Rivière du Loup, Quebec, Canada, about 600 miles north of Fall River. My maternal grandmother was born in the suburbs of Montreal, Quebec, more than 350 miles north of here. So I am, in fact, cold blooded (and not in a creepy way).
As a young pup, my dad taught me how to ice skate on the South Watuppa Pond where the Narrows used to be before Interstate 195 ruined the beauty of that area and took away the beloved Quequechan River waterfall.
Back then in the 60s, it was cold enough to freeze the ponds or lakes for safe skating from late December to early March. And, as an added bonus, Mother Nature allowed Old Man Winter permission to dump our area with feet of snow for months.
It was during this period of my life that my cold-bloodedness was at its best.
As I mentioned, Larry taught me to skate and it was the winter activity that took up most of my time. I would skate until my toes became frigid, and I knew it was time to head home and warm the little digits before it became problematic. As much as I loved skating, whether it was on the ponds or at the skating area at South (Kennedy) Park, but I hated the warm-up that followed. I would pull my socks off and my piggies were as red as Santa’s hat. Either mom or dad would gently massage the warmth back into them, or immerse them in warm water. Next came the burn, then the itching as my circulation was awakened from the hibernation in which I placed them. But I never had a case of frostbite.
Along with skating, we would flop on a sturdy Flexible Flyer (I still have the one my brother and I shared), and travel down any incline that would allow gravity to do its thing.
At first it was in my grandparents’ yard, then the streets (neighborhood streets were far less busy then), and then to my trusty South Park.
And then there was skiing. I started out in the same places (see photo of me pulling out of my grandparents’ yard on Whipple Street in the “Rive”). We lived across the street, so my first winter wonderland was a snowball’s throw away.
I knew it was time to go home when my ears would experience the same sensation as my toes when skating. The thawing out process for ears was far less intense and much quicker, but the burn and the itch were the same.
As I grew older and wiser (well older anyway), I would still look forward to winter. I would skate on the ponds, and once or twice skated the “bends” on the Watuppa, when the ice was thick enough to support us, but not in a group and not for more than a few seconds. The ice would actually undulate as we raced across. I felt if Larry knew I did that he would have blown a gasket, and my mom wouldn’t have let me out of the house until May. But I later learned from Larry he did it himself as a youth a time or two. That made me feel better, but looking back it was in fact a stupid risk to take and thank God nothing happened.
But, as I said it only happened once or twice. Pond hockey became the game of choice, and when we were late teens, we would play at a friend’s cottage all day and have a mini-keg of beer in the snow for short breaks.
I also hit the slopes for a week each winter (before I had children) at Mounts Cranmore, Attitash and Wildcat in and near North Conway, N.H.
I have some great stories about those days too, but for another time.
But back in the Rive, the winters became less icy and snowy, to the point where kids today would have no idea what I experienced at their age. Very rarely are the ponds safe to skate and there isn’t much snowfall for sledding or skiing.
As an adult, in the winter, my daughter Emilie and I would hit the outdoor, man made rinks in Providence, R.I., or in Foxborough, but that was it.
Now, I’m too fragile for any of that, but I do feel bad for the pups of today who are missing out on hours of fun, frozen toes and ears, bruises and the occasional laceration. Good fun.
Some say it’s global warming, but there have always been temperature shifts during this old planet Earth’s long history.
Regardless of the cause, it does seem that Old Man Winter has met his demise, but I do want to thank him for all the good times. So cool.
Oh, and my lovely wife read the headline of my column and said, “Be careful what you say.”
I send special thanks out for a random act of kindness.