First!

After Christmas every year, the city of Tonawanda floods Ives Pond Park, which is adjacent to the Comfort House, or Nachmu HQ. As soon as the persistent cold of deadly winter is forecast, a very predictable reality, in fact, city officials notify the DPW to close the drainage system of Ives Pond Park (which is a network of soccer fields and empty land in a four-foot deep depression dug out generations ago by a brick-making factory), and, once that is accomplished, they notify the water department to open the fire hydrant.

Between Christmas and the opening of the fire hydrant, anxiety rises throughout the city.

Last year, the forecast for the persistent cold of deadly winter never came. An unseen and evil force off the western coast of South America prevented deadly winter from coming. When it would normally snow, we had cold rain. When it would be cold and crisp under clear blue skies, we had overcast monotony. When it would be breezy and fresh, we had chill, damp winds. It was miserable. Not a crystal of ice formed anywhere throughout the Winter of 2012, the fire hydrant was never opened, and a year of bliss was stolen from us, the dwellers of Tonawanda. We had to pay to skate indoors.

Outdoor skating is an open defiance against the the persistent cold of deadly winter.

This year reckoned to be a repeat of last year, an evil robbery of our defiance, another hopeless winter of shivering against the damp. Christmas was followed by “The January Thaw,” which was no thaw at all because there had been no persistent freeze. Indeed, we had a large snowfall, but that was a Christmas gift from the Powers of Heaven to children all over Western New York; it was not the onset of the persistent cold of a deadly winter. Hope began to fade, and I began to budget time and money for more indoor skating.

One day, in mid-January, when it was still warm, I spied a rather large puddle in the soccer field nearest our house. I thought nothing of it; depression had wrecked my powers of deduction. I thought it was merely the remainder of the snow which had melted. A little while later, Nachmu the Younger mentioned, as an aside during another conversation, “If it freezes, there will be enough ice for us to skate on.” I responded, “Yes, my dear son, the heavy snow has found its way into a large puddle in the soccer field.”

I looked out the window again and saw that the puddle had grown exponentially. Slowly, slowly my mind roused itself. It was a Sunday afternoon; I do not think well on Sunday afternoons anyway, and certainly not hopefully about the flooding of the pond, not after last year’s misery. At first I thought: it did not precipitate this afternoon. Then I thought: perhaps the saturated high ground is giving up its water to the low ground of the park. Another thought crept through the gloom: that the water is not draining means the drains are closed. Still another thought made itself known in the form of a question: are cold temperatures forecast?

At that thought, I pulled up the weather app on my iPhone, and I saw that temperatures were about to plummet to the coldest they had gone in years. I shouted, “Quick! Get your boots on! I think the fire hydrant has been opened!” Quick as a flash, the thought followed my exclamation: I think the fire hydrant has been opened. We had boots on in an instant, and we were running to the other end of the park, where the hydrant is.

We burst into songs of highest praise, for the fire hydrant was opened! It remained open for two more days while temperatures crawled downward to the bottom of the thermometer until they revealed the persistent cold of deadly winter. It had arrived! At last!

Ives Pond Park was filled with water, and it froze rapidly under clear skies and fresh breezes. Anxiety began to rise throughout the city while we waited for the ice to become thick enough to ride upon.

On the third day, early on Wednesday afternoon, before the city’s children were released from school, I raced home from where I was. My heart pounded, sending forces which pressed my foot against the accelerator. Every automobile ahead of me was an enemy and every traffic light an obstacle, all to be vanquished and overcome. My hands gripped the wheel in fervent anticipation of Being First.

Temperatures were hovering around 12 degrees Fahrenheit, very cold (for us), challenging us to stay indoors where it was safe and comfortable. When I arrived home, I raised the alarm to the Nachmu Boys (who are home-schooled) that we should be first upon the ice. Skates were gathered up, and Nachmu fled into the cold toward the ice surface, which was completely abandoned and undefiled. I was first.

Mrs. Nachmu withheld the Nachmu Boys for a few minutes while she tied up their ears with scarves. They came to me a few minutes after I had ridden the ice. I tied the laces of their skates, and together, we three, claimed the coveted prize of Being First upon the ice of Ives Pond Park.

Some minutes later, we demonstrated our victory over the other children who had finally escaped; they were jealous, but we all rejoiced together, a horde of defiant children and adults, shaking our fists at the persistent cold of deadly winter.

After a while, we even had to loosen our coats a bit to allow some of the heat of our defiance to escape, welcoming the cold as something refreshing and enlivening.

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  1. Pingback: Last Week: We Skated | Creative Comforts

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