Sunday, November 29, 2015

Frozen in Time

This time of year folks tend to wax nostalgic, and, as a result, share long told family stories, old greeting cards and photos of the good ol’ days. I love hearing the tales, but the pictures are often better. I especially enjoy ones that depict festive clothing and social gatherings. Nothing charms me more than seeing a picture of skaters wrapped in heavy coats, warm mittens and muffs, furry hats, and flowing neck scarfs. Wintry scenes like these occurred wherever water was deep enough and temperatures froze for a long spell in western Kansas.  

These old greetings remind me of my grandfather’s adventures in Ford County, where he grew up along the Arkansas River. Family members taught him and his younger brother to skate as boys. Once they’d mastered their silver blades, the two of them traversed the frozen, winding waterway from their hometown of Ford all the way to old Fort Dodge. According to Grandpa, this was the fastest way to travel. To earn extra money, they ran a trap line along the banks. I don’t recall hearing stories of parties on the ice, but I’m sure if one occurred, the Bisbee boys were there.

Speaking of celebrations, old Ellis Headlights and Reviews are full of Big Creek Skate party stories. Apparently, events involving community members of all ages began in the afternoon and continued after dusk. Merrymakers built bonfires in the middle of the creek to light their way and provide warmth. This seems risky, but I’ve seen photos of Ellis residents harvesting ice to store in a warehouse near the old railroad bridge. It’s clear that the creek held considerably more water than it does now and got cold enough to freeze it several feet thick. That explains why revelers could safely stack logs and burn them right in the middle of the frozen creek bed without landing all of them in frigid waters.

A recent trip to a craft fair in Norton triggered some North Solomon skating stories. A friend and I found a cleverly constructed Christmas door hanger that used an old skate. The crafter had painted holiday designs on the leather uppers, strung the boot with red lacing, and tucked evergreens and bright berries into its opening. Immediately, I mentioned this was a great way to reuse old skates found at auctions and garage sales. My friend remarked that she still had the skates she’d worn down on the Solomon below Logan.

“What? You guys had enough water to ice skate right in Logan?” I asked.

That triggered more memories of skating parties she’d enjoyed as a child and teen in post WW II Kansas.  Sounds like Logan merrymakers had every bit as much fun as those red cheeked, frost nosed revelers in Ellis.

During these droughty years, it’s hard to imagine hosting community skates in our little towns on the prairie. However, when wet years come again, wouldn’t it be fun to start a new round of tales of little ones learning to skate with their parents and friends while young lovers hold hands and cruise up and down frozen tracks?

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