Tag Archives: ice skating

Getting in the Ice

"Ice," Carol Crump Bryner, 2015

“Ice,” Carol Crump Bryner, 2015

In June 1967 I moved to California for graduate school. Among the many things I learned about the west coast was that no one there called that thing in our kitchen an icebox. It was a refrigerator. In California-speak a pocketbook became a purse, dungarees became jeans, and sneakers became tennis shoes.

There’s a reason we called it an icebox. The one I remember was a big wooden box with a zinc lining, a heavy door, and a compartment for a block of ice. In this photo from our Thanksgiving supper in 1948, the icebox is right behind my head in the farmhouse kitchen.

The icebox, 1948

The icebox, 1948

I remember ice blocks being carried into the kitchen hanging from large metal tongs and then squeezed into their icebox compartment. At that time my grandparents were, I assume,  buying it commercially, but until at least sometime in the 1930’s my grandfather cut his own ice and stored it in the icehouse.

January was the month for getting in the ice. My grandfather waited until the pond ice was thick enough before spending the several days it took to harvest it.

Monday, January 8, 1912 – “Pleasant morning – washing done. Ellsworth preparing to get ice. Went up to Wilbur’s to get his ice plow. Towards evening commenced to snow.” – Lydia Jane Hall

The ice plow – probably pulled by a horse and guided by the farmer – cut grooves into the ice, first one direction and then another until the gridded ice could be sawed into blocks.

Wednesday, January 10, 1912 – “Clear and cold. Commenced getting ice, which is nice and thick. None so thick in a long time. Mr. Cella and son helping them get ice. Busy all day. Nice sliding on the hills.” – Lydia Jane Hall

The blocks were piled onto sleds and pulled back to the farm by horse teams.

Monday, January 19, 1914 – “A dark cloudy day. Looks much like a storm. Our washing not done. Men cutting ice. Got in three loads in afternoon. Ice twelve inches thick. Hard for the old blacks [the farm horses] to pull it up onto the road.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Ellsworth Hall with Little Doll and Old Doll, 1913

Ellsworth Hall with Little Doll and Old Doll, 1913

Wednesday, January 21, 1914 – “The men finished getting ice. The ice house is full of nice ice.” – Lydia Jane Hall

I wish I knew where the icehouse stood. It may have been the building next to the creamery. The ice would have been packed in sawdust to keep it frozen, and used all year.

Saturday, January 26, 1924 – “Much colder. Children at home going out and coming in with their cheeks like red roses. Agnes took Lydia to take her music lesson this morning. After dinner helped Edith clean kitchen and dining room and bake cookies. Men cleaning out the ice house getting ready for the ice, which they are expecting soon.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Lydia writes about two of the ponds used for ice cutting.

Tuesday, January 11, 1921 – “Ellsworth is cutting ice. Brought in six loads of ice from Mr. Leete’s pond. Mr. Leete and Charles Argonnis helping him.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Friday, February 8, 1924 – “The men are getting ice from our little pond down in the meadow. Mr. Ives is working with them. They are putting it in his icehouse. Ours is filled. They put it in – nine loads today.” – Lydia Jane Hall

One of the problems of the old-fashioned icebox was that the blocks of ice often had dirt and plant matter in them that made a mess as they melted. But the winter ice for me was all about skating and sledding, and I loved being able to peer down through the ice to see the frozen detritus. We skated on the little cow pond next to the lane until the late 1950’s when my Uncle Francis built a larger pond just up the hill from the smaller one. It was there that my cousins played hockey and I had a skating party where a friend fell and knocked out his front teeth. I’m sure my grandfather would have wanted some of that splendid ice for his icehouse, but these days I’m not sure if he would ever find ice that was twelve inches thick.

Skating on the big pond. The farm on the hill belonged at the time to the Farnam family

Skating on the big pond. The farm on the hill belonged at the time to the Farnham family.

On Monday:  Have you Counted your Handkerchiefs lately?

Skating on the Cow Pond

In late April, the spring at the south end of the cow pond turns green with new life. The skunk cabbage, adder’s tongues, and violets unfurl in their usual spots and last for a heartbreakingly short few weeks. When I walk down the lane past the pond, I hope to hear the call of the red-winged blackbird – a sound I so associate with this place that to hear it anywhere else feels wrong.

These days there are no cows stopping for a drink of water on their way to pasture. My brother keeps the pond’s banks clear of grass and cattails and the land free of the milkweed with its boat-shaped pods.

The cow pond in 1924

The cow pond in 1924

This one small spring on the Whirlwind Hill farm feeds a pond that served as a watering hole for the cows and a place of year-round entertainment for children. The August dragonflies hovered over the water as we sat watching and waiting for our red and white bobbers to get tugged below the surface by a fish. We were told we could catch frogs with red flannel attached to a piece of string, and we spent hours bent over the bank of the pond with our lures. I can’t remember catching either fish or frogs, but I still feel the warmth of the sun on my arms and the luxurious sense of time standing still on a long afternoon.

When the leaves turned color in the fall we walked with our great-grandfather Joseph Biggs down the lane past the cow pond looking for hickory nuts. We gathered them in our baskets and brought them into the farmhouse kitchen where they rested for several months behind the stove until dry enough to be cracked open and eaten.

And in winter we skated. As soon as the ice formed a thick enough layer, we put on our wool sweaters, thick socks, bulky snow pants, bulkier jackets, itchy hats, and never-warm-enough mittens and walked to the pond carrying our skates. We learned to skate when we were three or four years old on double-runner blades. Later the boys played hockey and knocked their teeth out. The girls made figure eights and skated backwards. We all played “crack the whip.” I skated until I had frozen toes. I skated until I had frozen fingers. And one day I skated until I had waited too long to take off my skates and walk back up the lane to the farmhouse bathroom. I didn’t care. Skating was joy.

Cousin Nancy and Carol skating on the cow pond, 1953

Cousin Nancy and Carol skating on the cow pond, 1953

On Monday:  Dolls and Poodle Skirts