In the years before global warming, my hometown, Wellesley, Massachusetts was usually 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 local kids, the outdoor rink at Wellesley High turned out to be a godsend. Such Wellesleyites 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. Of course, children were allowed to be more resourceful and independent back 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 about “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 single 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.”
Of course, when one of our own had discovered the aforementioned hidden pond situated a half-a-mile from our houses, it became headline news on our street. We soon learned that as part of the Fuller Brook inlet 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 who wished to skate on their natural ice surface once it was safe enough 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, 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 Marcia Decter and that she was the wife of a local legend, Bob Decter, whose Central Street store had provided shoes for two generations of local children in both Needham and Wellesley.
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 outside. 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. Soon, 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 lake like a glistening jewel in the winter darkness.
A handful of 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. Immediately, I glanced up and saw Mr. Knowles himself, who waved goodnaturedly 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, Bing Crosby, and the Harry Simeone Chorale playing over the rickety Knowles Pond sound system. As Mr. Knowles continued to light my way around the 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.