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  • Sunday, January 16, 2011

    It's A Kid Thing

    Hockey On Hold, (Briefly)
    'smores is more
    .. It has all the look of a medieval revel. The evening is warm, (18° F,) and the wind is a gentle zephyr that flutters the banners at the entrance to the town skating rink.
    .. "Official" parents and sponsors arrive about dusk and set up the tables and fire pits. The ice is checked for rocks, pebbles, twigs, and other debris, (a task made a bit more difficult than usual by the 1" of fine powder that fell in the morning.)
    .. This is the time for gossip and information exchange, (the post office is closed and it's dinner time for most families.)
    .. This is also the time for a bit of relaxed skating by mom's and dad's after a full Saturday at the beginning of the busy winter visitation season.
    .. Hockey is on hold for the week and there is a bit of hustle and bustle as the roads are plowed, the sound system set up, the graham crackers located, the chocolate unwrapped and broken, the marshmallows corralled, and the fires started.
    .. The kids arrive first, way before the 6 O'clock start time. They scramble for the best skates, (free for anyone under 12 years of age.) They sit in the snow and giggle as they pull on boots full of snow in their dash to get to the ice.
    .. Of course there's a few preteen boys testing the surface for "shoe sliding." (not too good with the fresh snow.)
    .. As the appointed hour draws near the "unofficial" families arrive to help with the finishing touches.
    .. Willow branches are loaded with frozen marshmallows, crackers and chocolate aligned, drink buckets positioned carefully on the tables, fires poked and prodded, and conversations started, (as more kids scramble for skates.)
    .. There is no "official program," no opening ceremonies, no band; just a gradual accumulation of the neighbors and a few curious tourists.
    .. There is a small glitch in setting up the sound system; someone put a lock on the power pole breaker box; (how big-city of them.)
    .. The first wave of skaters has abandoned the ice and is lining up for the marshmallows and other 'smores fixin's.
    .. Smoke begins to rise as the fires are poked and prodded into beds of coals for the perfect roasting arrangement.
    .. There are older kids now taking over the sledding hill and the ice rink. Some of the older kids give lessons in the art of burning, (or not burning,) marshmallows.
    .. Mom's assist the very wee kids with skates and as the gathering approaches the status of a crowd a low hubbub is heard around the fires and the rink as the mixing and mingling begins.
    .. This is similar to some of the few remaining block parties in the upper Midwest.
    .. This is similar to a stroll around the plaza in old rural Mexico. This is distinctly a neighborhood event; and in our case the neighborhood is the whole town. Bits of news filter through the crowd.
    .. "The traveling girls basketball team has posted a victory, the boys are down by 20 points."
    .. "There seems to be a gathering of large Brown Trout near the ice fishing holes at the 'narrows' out on Hebgen Lake. One of the neighborhood kids escaped serious injury after challenging a tree at speed with a snow machine."
    .. "The incoming, (and once previous mayor,) is taking the reins of the city and doing a fine job. He couldn't make it tonight because he's fixing a snow van for tomorrow's park tour."
    .. "The police chief is meeting with department personnel in an effort to settle some complaints within the department. He and the disgruntled will probably come together - it's not too big a deal."
    .. "Who is going to be the new judge? It's time to select the person to fill the spot for another term. Three candidates are being considered: the current judge, a former judge, and the city court clerk from Belgrade."
    .. "The state of Montana is considering managing bison as a big game animal." This is a bit of buzz that seems to keep cropping up as the marshmallows are roasted.
    .. And so it goes. The jungle telegraph is hot and heavy in the conversation groups around the rink. Skating, fancy and floppy is at full swing. Teen-aged girls cluster and giggle. The boys race and pound the boards. Parents and older folks take a twirl or two and "remember when."
    .. The evening is a success. Information has been exchanged. Gossip has grown and been smothered. The kids had a good time away from the laptops and TV's, and homework; the hockey nets remained buried in the snow.
    .. Then there's the clean-up. It's started by the "unofficial" families: picking up debris, candy wrappers, napkins and such.
    .. Then the "officials" begin: amidst the goodbye's, the sound system is packed, the drink jugs packed, the fires banked and watered. The nudging and clock mentioning is more frequent, and the tables are removed. It's a flurry of "see ya's" and "put-it-there's."
    .. Finally the rink is cleared, the snow hill is devoid of sledders, and only the dedicated remain. Lights out!
    .. There is an eerie silence and a few headlights pierce the clearing in the pines. The shadows are long and stark: it's now official - the skating season has begun.