A winter like we have experienced this year would have disappointed me when I was younger. I grew up along Buffalo's northwestern city limits. Winters then brought lots of snow, cold and ice. And ice was the best part! We counted on a frozen landscape each winter for our pleasure.
Across from J.H. Williams on Vulcan Street, the fields stretched for three blocks, broken up by streets and intermittent trees. It was our year-round playground. In the spring, summer and fall, those streets running along the field provided a quiet place to ride our bikes. We held bike races and practiced tricks, impressing one another with our skills.
Bigger kids sometimes commandeered tree forts we built there. The squatters took over after we had scrounged for pieces of lumber and nails and done all the work. The platforms of our "forts" were often lopsided and required an effort at balance to remain standing up there. But we always felt proud of ourselves and our accomplishments.
Birds nested in the swampy fields where I viewed red-wing blackbirds' eggs and watched the funny killdeers strutting along. I caught tadpoles that turned into frogs I released back from where they had come.
But winter provided the most enjoyment. With the obstacles of the remnants of weeds and tree branches sticking through the frozen swamp, we developed maneuverability on ice skates. Since the surface was far from being level, we also learned to balance ourselves on our blades. And, most important, we recognized how to judge the depth of the ice. Often soft spots waited to break just as we sailed across what we thought was frozen surface.
If someone's foot broke through, we said that person got a "hotfoot." Why having one's foot suddenly plunged into freezing cold water was termed a "hotfoot" I never could determine. It seemed a misnomer if ever there was one.
After a few seasons, we learned the signs of soft ice. Usually the surface was just too smooth-looking. Of course, if we were skating after dark, which we often did, then determining ice that might be too thin proved difficult. More hotfoots happened during evening skating.
If there had been a big snowfall, the ice had to be cleared. Kids who lived close by sometimes brought brooms or small shovels. If no one had a broom or shovel, someone usually improvised a way to clear the snow and push it out of our way. No one skated until most of the ice surface could be seen. We wanted a good chance to avoid falling through. Seeing was believing in this case.
Large, fallen branches offered places to sit while changing into our skates. Occasionally, someone brought a thermos of hot chocolate. We passed the small cup around to all who wanted a few sips.
I usually wore two pairs of mittens and two pairs of warm socks. Often they were not enough protection against frigid temperatures. So when the pain in my fingers or my toes became too much for me to bear, I headed for home. If my feet had become too cold, I limped the whole way.
Once inside the warm house, my face began to hurt. When I looked in a mirror, I had huge red circles on my cheeks and a red nose, too. But those were marks of having had a great time on that nature-provided ice. Winter was the best season in those swampy fields.
Sandy McPherson Carrubba, who lives in Kenmore, loved winter when she was young