Skating Under the Stars – A Christmas Memory

In the years before global warming, Wellesley, Massachusetts, my hometown, was typically encased in sub-freezing degree temperatures by Christmas vacation. This made outdoor skating a tangible reality for us during our formative years. Accordingly, a pack of us would traipse down Radcliffe Road’s vertical hill and head toward the outdoor rink at nearby Wellesley High School. There, we would join a Congress-sized assortment of boys and girls from aged 8 to 18, all eager to play street hockey.

For four generations of Wellesley kids, the outdoor rink at Wellesley High turned out to be a godsend. Such local natives as Glenn and Craig Patrick, who both later played in the NHL, had spent hundreds of hours playing on the bumpy service adjacent to Seaver Street. While we sampled other playing surfaces – from Morses Pond to Lake Waban to Dana Hall School’s circular rock-lined pool – our dream had always been to have a place to skate closer to where we lived. After all, kids were allowed to be more resourceful and independent then. Thus, we never even thought to ask our parents for rides to places a couple of miles away, and so, we would habitually trudge through both slush and snow to reach our icy destinations.

Consequently, when one of our neighbors on our street began to speak in whispered tones of “a magical frozen pond hidden in the woods where you can skate to your heart’s content,” my eyes became as wide as saucers. By December 1968, I had reconnoitered around our neighborhood environs and knew every solitary square yard – from Radcliffe Road to Southgate, from Brook Street to nearby Woodlawn Cemetery.

The next day, when I then observed one of my neighborhood buddies gallivanting up our street, heading for Brook Street, with a hockey stick and skates dangling from the blade end of his stick, I stood along our property in wonder. At that instant, I recognized that when you stopped believing in reality, it just doesn’t go away. I accosted him the next day and inquired if he had found “something.”

He had.   

Of course, when one our own discovered the aforementioned hidden pond situated a half-a-mile from our houses, it became instant headline news on our street. We soon learned that as part of the Fuller Brook estuary there was a small deposit of water, whose cigar-shaped size was a bit longer than the length of a football field. Situated behind Fuller Brook Road, the “pond” was named for the family that owned it – Knowles.

To get to Knowles Pond, you walked eight houses down from the corner of Brook Street and Fuller Brook. You would then have to cut through one of the neighbor’s yards to reach the pond at the bottom of an elongated hill. Concealed amidst five acres of woods, we learned that the Knowles family “welcomed neighbor visitors” skating on their natural ice surface “once it was safe enough for children to use.”

When I timidly walked down Fuller Brook to the “cut through” yard for the pond the first time, an affable young mother greeted me with a smile. “Yes, Son, this is how you get to Knowles Pond! You may walk through our property anytime to do so!”

After thanking the affable woman profusely, I learned that her name was Marsha Decter and that she was the wife of veritable Wellesley legend, Bob Decter, whose popular Central Street store had provided shoes for two generations of local children.  

As the local paperboy for The Patriot Ledger, an afternoon daily newspaper at the time, I began to scout Knowles Pond whenever I delivered my papers to local customers after school. On December 24, Christmas Eve, the biting air reminded me that if I played my cards just right, I could have a late afternoon skate after I completed my route that day. However, I hadn’t counted on the fact that each customer would want to personally hand me a tip – usually a dollar – for my services that year. Thus, by the time I had completed delivering my newspapers that Christmas Eve, it was near pitch-black out. Regardless, I grabbed my skates, put them on the end of my stick, thrust an old puck into my coat pocket, and departed for Fuller Brook Road.

When I completed the ten-minute trek from my house, I then sat on the wooden bench that the Knowle family has so generously left for us to sit on as we changed into our skates. Within a minute, I was teetering through a tuft of snow in order to reach the frozen pond just as a full moon glistened overhead.

Suddenly, two outdoor flood lamps, which had been strategically placed in a couple of trees lining the pond’s surface, magically came to life, lighting the previously darkened pond like a shimmering jewel in the winter darkness.

Ten seconds later, Bing Crosby’s infectious version of ‘Let it Snow” began to blare out over a tinny loudspeaker, which had been placed next to the floodlight closest to Knowles’ house. I immediately glanced up and saw Mr. Knowles himself, who waved good-naturedly at me.

“Merry Christmas, Son!” he barked through the barren oak trees.

“Thank you so much, Sir!” I shouted back. “I hope that you have a Merry Christmas as well!”

For the next 45 minutes, I skated alone on that wondrous wintry surface to the uplifting sounds of Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and the Harry Simeone Chorale playing over the rickety Knowles Pond sound system. While I skimmed over the hard surface with the night enveloping around me, the spirit of the season engulfed me As Mr. Knowles continued to play a series of spirited Christmas songs and light my way around his little pond in the dense woods of a frigid winter’s night, I realized that the best things in life usually come from a fountainhead of generosity.

When I finally put my skates off and began to trudge up the steep ravine adjacent to Fuller Brook Road, the otherworldly little scene below descended into darkness, and the music ceased playing.

I quickly skirted home into the glow of the evening with the spirit of the season and an irreplaceable Yuletide memory that would last a lifetime.

 

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4 thoughts on “Skating Under the Stars – A Christmas Memory

  1. Jane Moynihan says:

    I love this piece. Beautifully written, smooth and adventurous like skating. I skated with my family at Rockridge Pond, Longfellow Pond and occasionally Kelly Pond. There was a small pond called Station Pond we would walk to down by the train station at the bottom of Croton Steet. It was never safe, but if you fell through it wasn’t deep. Here in Falmouth we skate on the cranberry bogs.

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    • Jane – first of all, thank you! Great memories from your end as well! Someday, I shall write about the February Break at WHS that I had when I skated continuously on out old cranberry bog in Eastham!

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  2. Joanne Glirioso Sullivan says:

    Thank you for this lovely story of memories of olden days and me skating, yes , outdoors which today seldom happens. I lived in the Woodlands and walked down Halsey Avenue to our skate pond known as the frog pond. Like others we had to wait for it to freeze but if you fell through you were probably only knee deep so no safety issues ! thank you for sharing this memory it brought a tear to my eye and many found memories of my brother playing hockey and me doing my figure skating , along with many other children in the Woodlands neighborhood !

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  3. Tom Salvi says:

    Enjoyed that wonderful story. My skating was not the best. I always love skating at different places in Wellesley. Never knew of Knowles pond. I do remember Longfellow pond. But mostly I enjoyed my short walk from my Hollis St home across the RR tracks to an 2 areas just below the Town Hall. The first one was next to the College Taxi. Victor Maccini would flood a hollow area and it would freeze. It was a popular spot. I’m sure Chris Gorgone would know this spot too. Then on the other side of the Town Hall was another area. This was the popular Duck pond. I attended St. Paul’s church and would regularly stop and feed the Swans and Ducks on Sunday morning before services. During the winter my neighbors would gather at this location to skate. It was a little more risky because of a constant flow of water. On the way home from skating we would like to stop into the train station where the post office is now at Grove St and RR Ave. In those days we had freight trains over 300 cars long passing through town. I used to sit under the bridge at Crest Rd near the Townsman office and count the trains. Getting back to the train station, it always had a pot bellied stove going during the cold weather for passengers so it was always a great place to warm up after skating.

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