55: The Backyard Rink

55: The Backyard Rink

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

The Backyard Rink

You will find as you look back upon your life the moments when you have really lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.

~Henry Drummond

I believe it is a universal truth that every Canadian man, at some point in his life, decides to build a skating rink in the back yard, just like his dad did when he was a lad. This isn’t much of a problem in the city where he’s perched on a piece of land appropriately scaled for a three-bedroom bungalow and maybe a small shed and swing set. He can quite easily flood the back yard during TV commercials.

However, in Manitoba we learned that country back yards are a whole different matter. When winter came, my husband Ross, the man who laughed in such a condescending manner when I planted too much zucchini in the summer, succumbed to Large-Yard-Syndrome when building an ice rink.

Figuring there’s no point in even bothering to build a rink if an entire hockey league couldn’t use it for practice games, Ross spent ages planning and preparing the site. That was a mere blink of the eye compared to how long it took to actually water the mighty expanse with a standard garden hose, especially a ludicrously short garden hose connected to a tap connected to a well with water pressure so inadequate that it only allows you to wet down the far side of this putative Montreal Forum when the pump kicks in. As he stood outside, icicles formed on his nose, the glove clutching the hose, and the hose itself, until he had to come inside to thaw the nozzle so he could start the flow again.

Yet despite the amazing fact that I couldn’t find another garden hose at Canadian Tire in Winnipeg in the middle of December when everyone else was doing their Christmas shopping, and I refused to take out a second mortgage to buy a Zamboni machine, Ross finally announced the rink “skateable.”

That’s when the real trouble began.

Up until this point my contribution had consisted mainly of waxing eloquent about how wonderful he was to go out there in that awful weather just to provide us with a venue for a little winter recreation. I plied him with mulled wine and hot toddies and commiserated with him on the treachery of a hose whose output slowed to a trickle as the ice built up, both inside the line and off the end of the nozzle, like a pack of crazed stalactites.

I kept a concerned expression on my face as he bemoaned the fact that after an hour or so the water would plop out of the hose viscously to form stalagmites on his increasingly bumpy stretch of ice. I even managed to keep up the sympathetic cooing as I watched the two of them (Ross and his hose) drip black slush all over the carpet as they thawed in front of the fire.

But when the rink was finally finished I was confronted with my greatest challenge — I actually had to go out and skate on it.

Ross belongs to the Conan the Barbarian school of skating, whose main tenet is that if you can still feel your feet after your skates have been done up then your laces are too loose. He also believes that figure skates are for sissies (as well as being bad for the ice) and real skaters (and their wives and daughters) wear hockey skates.

My outlook darkened rapidly the first time I actually tried to skate in the darn things. I was on a huge expanse of unsympathetic and deadly ice with no picks to either get me started or stop me when someone else gave me a shove. Wholly dependent on surface friction and my own vast capacity for inertia, I felt like a curling stone.

When, after about a minute and a half, I complained about the cramps in both my feet, Ross shook his head in a disappointed puppy kind of way and hurried me hard over to the bench, which I had, with stunning insight, ordered to be placed by the rink in anticipation of just such an emergency.

I thumped down, and then proceeded to break three fingernails and a tooth trying to get my laces untied.

It never ceases to amaze both Ross and our daughter, who now frequently and maliciously skates circles around me, that after this many months my skating has not improved in any way.

In the hopes of spurring me to skating competency, Ross promised me a cool NHL sweater as soon as I proved worthy of it. When it became woefully apparent this tactic was doomed to failure, a Montreal Canadiens sweater found its way under the Christmas tree anyway, while my husband lied sweetly about my “huge improvement.” Yet despite wearing his number, I still can’t come close to skating with anything like the panache of “Rocket” Richard. And he’s been dead for years.

So, I’ve become that crazy woman in the Habs sweater slowly spinning on her butt mid-ice.

At least I’m blocking the path for the Zamboni machine.

~Denise Flint

St. Philips, Newfoundland and Labrador

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