Icy Reflections

laments swirling around the old neighborhood rink

Eric Rasmussen

My kids are seven and five, so they don’t know any better.

I like to take them sledding at Mitscher Park, the neighborhood park just a block south of our house. There’s no technical sledding hill in the acre-ish field. It is essentially a big divot in the middle of the grid of houses south of Hamilton Avenue, west of Rudolph Road, and east of State Street. Whoever teased roads out of the woods and farm fields apparently could not stop himself from adding a few creative flourishes, abandoning strict parallel lines for the occasional trapezoid or, when the spirit took him, a little curlicue of asphalt leading to a quiet cul-de-sac.  However irregular the streets are, the whole area drains to Mitscher Park, which, in the case of biblical rains or climate change monsoons, will keep all of our houses from floating away. And it has a slide and a swing-set. Win-win.

I wander around the warming house and look in the windows at the benches where I used to sit and put on my skates. I wish I could smell it again, that special mix of hot rubber floor mats and melted snow and old wood.

Mitscher Park used to have a skating rink, too, back when I loved Mitscher Park. When I was 11, if time allowed after dinner on cold winter evenings, I could throw my ice skates over my shoulder and walk down and spend a half hour by myself gliding across the ice. That was freedom on at least three different levels. Freedom from my parents, freedom to do what I wanted, and freedom from the friction of rubber soles on the sidewalk. During the summer I would bike down for the Parks and Rec summer program, where one of the employees got all the boys in the neighborhood addicted to baseball cards. He sold me a Jose Canseco rookie card, and I have never checked, but I assume it is now worth a ton.

Somewhere between when I moved out of my parents’ house and then bought that house from them 15 years later, the city stopped flooding the rink at Mitscher Park. When I take my kids there to sled down the modest slope in front of the abandoned warming house, ours are usually the only tracks in the snow. Last winter, a toppled early-season snowman kept watch over the former rink, covered by each successive snowfall until it was just a boulder in a field. The playground equipment on the other side of the park sees a little more winter traffic. The monkey bars are tough in mittens, and the snow does not leave enough leg clearance to swing, but snowpants in the tube slide are almost as fast as the hockey players used to be out on the ice.

My kids and I always start the outing by filling the sleds with snow and dumping them out on the concrete pad in front of the warming house, which makes a launch so they can build up speed before they hit the small hill. I try to point them at one compacted track when I shove them toward the drop, but they are terrible at steering, so soon the hill is a braid of paths. After a while, my arms get tired, and they are slower to get up when they bail at the bottom, so I wander around the warming house and look in the windows at the benches where I used to sit and put on my skates. I wish I could smell it again, that special mix of hot rubber floor mats and melted snow and old wood. I imagine most warming houses smell the same, but I’d still like to check Mitscher’s for myself.

On the walk home I imagine myself someday going around to all the neighbors’ houses to put together some sort of neighborhood association, or take up a collection, or at least get them to sign a petition to reopen the Mitscher Park skating rink. There are lots of kids in the neighborhood all of sudden, with lots of hockey nets in driveways. I know Putnam Heights is only a couple of miles away, but 11-year olds can’t walk that far, certainly not on school nights.

My wife makes hot chocolate for my kids whenever we return from sledding at Mitscher Park, just like my mom used to for me. My wife even keeps the tin of Swiss Miss in the same place my mom used to. If I am going to attempt some community organization to reopen the Mitscher Park rink, I’d better do it soon. By the time they’re 12, maybe 13, tops, my kids won’t care about skating. That’s about when I stopped. I would hate for the city to put in all that time and money if no one appreciates it.

There’s always been an ebb and flow of kids in my neighborhood. The nights of some years are louder than others with the sounds of ghosts in the graveyard and impromptu soccer and hockey games. I’m sure someone would appreciate the rink. I know I would.