On Frozen Pond

When I started working for this magazine, I spent a lot of time reading back issues to familiarize myself with its content. My favorite articles usually fell under the "Life in Early America" heading—the kind of social history that described people’s everyday lives.

For this issue, I had the chance to research ice skating, one of those activities we (or at least I) take for granted without giving much thought to its history. It makes perfect sense that skating would have evolved thousands of years ago as a way to traverse frozen lakes and rivers.

Thanks to the Internet, I came upon several references in old histories about famous and common folks who enjoyed the sport in America as soon as settlers could make time for leisure. In the days of the Little Ice Age and before global warming, bodies of water as far south as Virginia froze solid enough for skating. (People living in the mountains of North Carolina probably skated too, though I found no specific mention.)

What’s always fun is learning that America, despite its youth as a nation, contributed to some aspect of man’s history. Regarding skating, I learned that a young ballet instructor named Jackson Haines (various sources list him as a native of either New York City or Chicago) pretty much transformed figure skating in the 1860s by adding leaps, spins, elaborate costumes, and musical accompaniment.

Skating played a central role in my life as a child growing up in the "icebox of Pennsylvania." We lived at the south edge of town on a street that dead-ended into the woods, where various shallow ponds froze over every winter. It seems that each Christmas, my brother and I would find a new pair of skates under the tree. In the days before computers, movies on demand, and video games, we spent our free time outdoors, even if the thermometer never went above freezing.

I skated periodically as an adult. At our local newspaper, where I held my first professional job, most of the editorial staff worked the three-to- midnight shift, so we often spent our off-hours together as well. One night we met for skating at the local rink, relishing the fresh snowflakes despite the 8-degree temperature.

My most recent (maybe not all that recent) forays came when I served as a leader for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop and we took advantage of the local rink’s special days for Scouts. I guess it’s one of those skills you don’t forget because I still could circle the rink several times without falling down.

Like the throngs who attend championships and ice shows, I enjoy watching today’s athletes dance and leap on the ice. I never skated fast or elegantly, and I never mastered skating backwards, but I understand the exhilaration of moving on the ice on a bright but biting winter day—and the reward of savoring a cup of hot cocoa afterwards. Maybe this winter I’ll venture out for a long overdue visit to a frozen pond.

Jeanmarie Andrews

Executive Editor

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