Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Hockey Life: It's 'freezing' down here

Growing up in Machias, N.Y., especially during the winter, I lived for snow days during the school year. It wasn't so much about getting away from school, as we'd always have to make up those days over spring break or, later, in June. No, to me, snow days meant an opportunity to hit the ice.

Growing up in the sticks, like we did, hitting the ice didn't mean going to a rink. It meant going to a pond, lake or, in most cases, the Cemetery Swamp. The ice was seldom perfect, riddled with ridges and other imperfections, but we hardly complained. Ice was ice, and ice meant hockey.

Though those days have long since passed (we're talking the mid to late 1970s, mind you), I can't remember every really complaining too much about the cold. Sure, toes would get cold, as would fingers and noses. But it never seemed cold enough to complain or, even worse, call it quits.

Once we finished clearing the ice, using shovels or our homemade "Zamboni," a piece of plywood with a pair of 2-by-4s as poles, and started playing, we'd warm up rather quickly. Yes, I imagine it was cold, but we seldom, of ever, really felt it.

Fast forward, if you would, to the winter of 2005. We were living along the New Hampshire-Maine border, in a house on (of all ironies) Summer Street. Like most northern locales, we weren't immune from snowstorms and the occasional blizzard. My experience in growing up in the snow belt of western New York would serve me well.

There was one storm, and my memory is much more clear on this, where a foot of snow was accompanied by lower temperatures than normal. Bitter cold? Not really. Cold enough, though, to remember.

As the snow fell, I adopted the habit of shoveling the driveway about every two to three hours, letting the snow get no more than 2 to 3 inches deep. To me, it made sense to do it that way, rather than deal with the mass of snow once the storm ended. Besides, it was good exercise and, after 20 minutes or so, I'd warm right up.

By the third such shoveling excursion, I'd realized that multiple layers of clothing, even in the sub-freezing temperatures, weren't necessary. All I really needed were boots, a winter coat, mittens, hat and, get this, a long-sleeve T-shirt and shorts. Yes, shorts.I imagine the neighbors got a chuckle out of my wardrobe.

Just a few days ago, down here in Hockey Bay, St. Petersburg felt the need to cancel its First Friday event, a downtown street party held monthly, because of "cold weather." The temperature? Between 40 and 45 degrees?  I went for a walk that night. It was brisk, mind you, but nothing that long pants and a jacket couldn't handle.

Elsewhere that day? How about 9 degrees for a high in Buffalo? To the east, it was a downright balmy 12 degrees in Rochester, N.H. I won't even mention any wind-chill temperatures. Throughout the nation, as well as Canada, I'm sure the good people of St. Petersburg were viewed as winter wimps.

And, now, we're hearing a "polar vortex," whatever the heck that is, will even reach Florida on Monday, sending temperatures around Hockey Bay plummeting into record-low territory. I can only imagine what events will be closed now.

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