WOSTER: Remembering being, literally, on thin iceA gang of us ended up on skates on the ice, gliding and sliding and slipping and taking pratfalls across the frozen river. It was frozen solid, there near the west bank where the causeway from the old Highway 16 bridge created a natural rink.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
One Christmas break back in Chamberlain, a bunch of high-school kids went on a skating party in the sheltered cove across the Missouri River from town.
No, this wasn’t the Christmas break when Coach Vance warned his basketball players not to go ice skating during the holiday because he didn’t want anyone coming back with a sprained ankle.
That was my junior year, and I wasn’t getting much playing time, anyway. The skating outing I’m talking about today was from my senior year.
Coach Byre probably thought he didn’t have to warn a bunch of high-school seniors not to do anything that would jeopardize the rest of their season. Or, a young coach, maybe he remembered what it was like to be 17 or 18 years old, on a school holiday and hanging out with a bunch of young men and women the same age.
And maybe he remembered how, if someone had said “Hey, let’s go ice skating,” there wouldn’t have been a kid in the bunch who would have said, “Heck, no. Remember what Coach told us.”
Whatever the reason, a gang of us ended up on skates on the ice, gliding and sliding and slipping and taking pratfalls across the frozen river. It was frozen solid, there near the west bank where the causeway from the old Highway 16 bridge created a natural rink.
It had been a cold winter to that point, and the ice was thick. A few primitive shacks rested near the shore a ways south of us, and there were pockmarks in the ice that showed where holes had been drilled and then froze shut after the angler left with or without a catch.
My friend Mike lived straight across the river on the east shore, in a modest house just above the rip-rap that protected the bank.
For some reason, most likely because we were 17 and 18 years old, he and I decided to skate across to his place and collect some snacks for our skating party. It seemed like a good idea at that time, and none of our classmates so much as suggested we were a couple of idiots.
As we moved farther from the west shore, we left the shelter of the causeway and picked up a nice following breeze. We fairly scooted across the ice, right up to the place where we entered the main channel. Who’d have thought the ice would be thinner there?
It was, though, as we realized when we began to hear cracking noises and see cracks in the surface that ran off ahead of us toward the other shore.
Well, we may have been idiots, but we dug the edges of our skates into the ice and halted abruptly. We gave up on the snacks and turned back.
Because the wind was in our faces and because we kept hearing cracking noises, we threw ourselves flat on the ice — distributing our weight, get it? — and began to crawl toward our friends.
We made it, hungry, cold, more than a little scared and more than a little embarrassed, what with the ribbing (good-natured, I’m sure) we took from the gang.
I remembered that incident on Sunday when Nancy and I were walking along the river bank in Pierre.
The temperature was in the high 40s, there wasn’t an ice floe to be seen on the channel and the surface had barely a ripple on that calm afternoon.
On the causeway that leads to LaFramboise Island (a causeway still in need of repairs after last summer’s flood) we met a friend from work. He had a kayak tied at the shore, and he was preparing to load and launch for a cruise around LaFramboise.
We chatted a bit and then watched him paddle off, his wake creating the only ripple on the river.
Had my friend and I had owned kayaks back in the winter of 1962, we could have dragged them over the ice to the channel, boarded and finished our mission.
Worse case, we’d have messed it up and some future basketball coach would have been warning his players against kayaking during winter breaks.