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December 21, 2016

Winter fun – right in the neighborhood

I got my first taste of winter fun in the 1940s when I was bundled up and placed in a wooden sleigh that was made for a small child. I still have that sleigh today. It has a back to lean against, a wrought iron handle for pushing it and metal runners. My mother was one of four women who pushed their children in these sleighs throughout the neighborhood. It gave them some fresh air and socialization.
Rutland did not have a lot of street traffic back then and apparently the roads remained snow covered longer than they do today. My parents stored the sleigh in the shed after I outgrew it and after 60 years of looking at it, I decided to use it but in a totally different way. Thanks to my handy husband, Peter, the sleigh now has block shelving inside upon which I put terra cotta pots filled with flowers. There are pansies in the spring, impatiens in the summer and mums in the fall. It’s a “conversation piece” for sure!
When I was old enough to venture outdoors on my own I was fortunate to have an abundance of places for winter fun. There was a lot of open land in Rutland City back in the 1950s. By then I was old enough to be outside with my friends. This meant numerous opportunities for year round outdoor fun. Kids were outside 12 months of the year. When it was cold out you dressed for the weather and headed outside to play with your friends.
Over the past 60 years, I have seen my personal “playgrounds” disappear as streets were added and houses were built in the neighborhood.
I remember sliding down hills that now serve as my neighbors’ backyards. There were all sorts of ways to navigate those hills. The first method used by everyone was a Flexible Flyer sled. They were made of wood with metal runners and were equipped with a steering bar. Mine had a rope to pull it. I remember being dressed in so many layers of clothes that I waddled over to the hill dragging my sled behind me. Some kids sat on the sleds but most of us “belly-flopped” onto them with excess clothing as our padding and down the hill we went.
Some of the hills were several hundred feet long. We got our exercise pulling the sleds up the hill so we could zip down them once again.
Round silver colored “coasters”, made of metal, were also popular. You sat on them and put your hands through two loops. There was no method for steering them other than leaning your body in a certain direction. We loved it when the hills got icy making it really fast for both the sleds and coasters.
I had one method of going down hills that no other kid had. My father built me a jack jumper. It was made of wood. The seat was attached to a vertical board that was nailed to a curved board, with a tip like a ski has. You held on for dear life as you whipped down the hill. All the kids wanted to take a turn and I had many requests to bring it along when the neighborhood gang got together.
When we needed a change of pace from sledding, we could ice skate without leaving our neighborhood. Just up the street from my home was a skating rink. A neighbor flooded his extra lot and kept it cleaned off after it snowed. Everyone was welcome and there were floodlights at night. What more could a kid ask for?
Even though our neighbors’ rink was a wonderful place to be, sometimes we just wanted to make our own fun. So we cleared off places where excess water had formed small ponds. These provided additional skating rinks. They were far from smooth but provided what we thought of as a secret place to meet. We cleared them with our parents’ shovels and brooms and got some exercise that didn’t seem like work at all.
My cousin, Betty, lived on the dead-end section of Engrem Avenue in Rutland. Her gang of friends also had a neighborhood rink that everyone called “the pollywog.” In the summer it was a place to catch frogs and salamanders and in the winter it was where area kids met to skate. I am sure that other locations in Rutland had their own versions of self-made neighborhood skating rinks. The ones in my neighborhood are now part of someone’s back yard. Apparently, the water issues were resolved so houses could be built.
As I look around on my neighborhood walks, I still remember the places we went sledding and skating. They may be gone now but the memories remain.
Once in a while we wanted to have some fun outside of our own neighborhood. On weekends our parents often took us to two very popular recreation sites right in the city. You could downhill ski at the Rutland Country Club. There was a rope tow to bring you to the top of the hill.
If you wanted to meet your school friends for public skating, the popular spot was the Rotary Rink on North Street.
Memories from my days in those two places are a story in themselves. Looking back at them will provide future reminiscing.
Stay tuned!

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