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The frozen pond

In Wisconsin, where I grew up, the winters were long and frigid, but as a child I loved the cold and snow. Up in the attic went our warm-weather gear and down came the sleds and skates.

The colder and snowier the winter, the more fun I could have with my brothers and friends, skating and sledding. Snow days off from school were almost as exciting as Christmas. Just walking on an icy sidewalk was a fun-filled adventure full of giggles and falls.

All winter long, my brothers and I hurried home from school, changed into our warmest hand-me-down clothes, grabbed our used skates, and headed for the large frozen pond at Washington Park. It was a great place to skate. There were bridges, small islands, and a large pavilion where we could warm our toes and get a 10-cent (or maybe it was a nickel) cup of cocoa. Everyone from school was there and we practiced our figure skating tricks or played crack-the-whip or pickup hockey until it was time for supper.

We rushed home, ate, did our homework, and then it was back to the frozen pond. After dark, the islands provided a little privacy for the older kids, and many a romance was sparked during those freezing evenings.

A couple of years ago, the Kansas City metro had a winter that brought below-zero temperatures for several days. My husband, who grew up in Michigan and played backyard hockey from the time he was 4 years old, discovered to his delight that Doutt's Lake, a large pond near his office, had frozen to what appeared to be a safe thickness. He skated all morning on that cold, clear, crisp Saturday in January. At lunch time I went over to check on him and take him some sandwiches and cocoa. He asked whether I thought any of our kids or grandkids wanted to come and play. Our daughter Jill and her two kids, Josh, 8, and Samantha, 3, were excited to give it a try.

Jill was able to wear my skates. Josh tried for 20 minutes to squeeze into a pair of old skates several sizes too small, until we finally convinced him it was a lost cause. We found a small pair of skates for Samantha. I hauled my ancient Flexible Flyer runner sled down from the attic. We grabbed extra mittens and a thermos and off we went, bundled up in our mismatched snow pants, winter coats, hats, and scarves.

We spent the afternoon skating, sledding, and playing hockey. Josh discovered that he didn't need skates; his boots worked just fine on the slippery, snow-covered ice. Samantha gave it her wobbly best. Jill even tried some spins and jumps.

Papa was inexhaustible as he pulled us around on that old sled. He sent us flying across the ice at the speed of what seemed like Olympic bobsledders. I felt like I was 12 again, and laughed more than I had in a long time.

When it was time to leave, we realized what a unique experience we'd had. It was reminiscent of a time when we needed less paraphernalia and more spontaneity to enjoy a memorable afternoon. Jill made a photo booklet for Papa to thank him for giving Josh and Samantha an extraordinary adventure.

With all the indoor skating rinks, fancy gear, and structured activities kids have now, I think every child should have a chance to skate on a frozen pond on a cold, clear, crisp winter afternoon.