23 February 2011

The Duck Pond

On at least three separate occasions recently, I’ve heard my sons comment to the effect that they ‘can’t believe it’s already winter holidays’ or ask ‘don’t I think this year is going by so fast?’ The comments are shocking to me, because that is the type of thing you expect to hear from people – people who the French so beautifully describe as being of a certain age, those who are wont to express the perception that time is racing by.

They are not comments I would expect from kids.

I remember feeling that childhood lasted forever.  In the town where I grew up, there is a small pond.  It is named, with great originality, the Duck Pond, just like thousands of ponds across America where ducks swim. It is a decent size pond, but in my childhood I thought it only slightly smaller than Lake Superior. Even if it was perhaps quite significantly smaller, its presence was enormous.

For mothers, the duck pond was a salvation, as one could walk to it with young children in tow, stale bread in hand, for the breathtaking adventure of, yes, feeding the ducks.  The fact I still remember these excursions from earliest childhood is a living testament to the thrill incurred. As we grew and the Duck Pond shrank – it nevertheless remained exciting.  Every winter it would freeze over, and there would come a day when a member of the police department would walk out, test the ice and declare it safe for skating.

This annual ritual stretched back in continuity far beyond my years. My father was born and raised in the town where I grew up and I have no doubt he too experienced this same thrill come a cold day in winter. I know, because he told me he did. He learned to skate and play hockey on the Duck Pond and he could skate like few people I’ve seen before or since – the man was a symphony on ice. 

Every winter weekend, come the long awaited proclamation that the Duck Pond was frozen solid; my father would take me, my brother and about half the kids in town ice-skating. He always found the time. He would lace up one pair of skates after another, serve steaming hot chocolate from his giant thermos and teach us all to play ice hockey, snap-the-whip and other games.  These were long, rosy cheeked, magical afternoons that I still remember as some of the happiest times of my childhood.

Today I am on winter holidays in Switzerland with my own children and without a doubt, we’re having a ball.  For the most part, life in Monaco means we travel to our winter, which is only about four weeks a year.  That is a fact I know will garner me little sympathy from those living a long, cold and seemingly endless one.

But our winter is short and much like our life, our holidays seem to literally fly by. And maybe it’s just that soon I will be a ‘certain age’ myself that makes me feel this way, but when boys not yet in their teens feel time is racing by too, you have to wonder why.  Is it just the pace of life today, where every minute is chock a block full? Or just that we want to do so much all the time, especially on holidays?

Whatever the reason, as the boys and I skated this afternoon around our wonderful ice park here in Switzerland, I really missed the Duck Pond.

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