On cold winter nights in the 1960s, we bundled up, tied the laces of our skates together and threw them over our shoulders to head to the reservoir.

The reservoir was the source of  the water supply for the town of Skowhegan, and we neighborhood kids trudged across a large field by moonlight, entered the woods and made a beeline for the ice.

Once there, we donned our skates and raced round and round that reservoir until we had barely enough energy to hike home.

My brothers, sisters and I all wore hockey skates. By the time I was a young teenager and tried my first pair of figure skates, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, skating was so easy in them.

I could twirl and fly and skate backwards, seeking to appear much more elegant than I did in those hardscrabble hockey skates.

We loved to skate any time, but night skating was most memorable. Sometimes my brothers built a bonfire and we would sit on logs around it to warm our cold cheeks and toes.

That feeling of entering the house after slogging back through the snowy woods and field from skating was a sensation like no other. Sleep came easily in our warm beds after such adventure, and we had stories to tell the next day at school.

I think back on those skating trips as I hike around the path I have shoveled in our back yard in Waterville for exercise during this coronavirus pandemic. It is one of the best things I have done for my physical and mental well-being since I started working from home in March last year.

One trek around the loop affords me 110 steps and I can repeat it as many times as I wish. I relish breathing in the fresh, cold air, like I did as a child, following in the tracks my siblings created in the snowy field as we marched to the reservoir. We never thought about the need to exercise then — it was just something we did, and we were heartier and healthier for it.

We also skied in the ’60s and ’70s at Eaton Mountain, which offered night skiing under the lights. Some nights, it was so cold we could barely feel our hands and feet afterward, but being cold was just something we expected. To warm up, we’d enter the lodge, peel off our parkas and clomp around in our ski boots, leaving puddles of melted snow all over the floor.

When we weren’t skiing or skating, we were hiking through the snow to the hill near our house, hauling toboggans and sleds and meeting up with our friends for a sliding party.

We built a fire at the top of the hill where there was a small clearing in the trees. We roasted marshmallows and hotdogs and sought to dry our wet mittens.

Aiming our sleds to the west, we shoved off, striking two small hills of snow before speeding down the long incline, faster and faster until the momentum finally abated and we whimpered to a stop.

If it was particularly icy, we could travel faster and farther than usual, and, in the end, found ourselves inching up to a barbed wire fence we all tried to avoid — though more than once we failed and had the bloody skin to prove it.

In more recent years, I remember my late father-in-law, lying on the sofa in his 90s, blind from macular degeneration, but smiling as he rested. I asked what he was thinking about and he said his childhood memories.

I know that, in my old age, I’ll be doing the same, remembering those long-gone winter days in Skowhegan, reveling in the snow.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 32 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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