Watch out, Ms. Stewart, ice skating is contagious
By Anthony Buccino
Essays, photography, military history, more
I read something by former Nutleyite Martha Stewart about how she would travel to the Mud Hole and skate there with her friends. Like a lot of other folks who grew up in Nutley, Stewart enjoyed the coziness of the Mud Hole in the winter for ice skating.
What is it about January weather that causes otherwise normal folks to suddenly yen to strap on a pair of old, old ice skates and wobble whole-heartedly across a frozen runway?
It has been a few years since Iíve laced on the old hockey skates but Iím almost sure that my fossilized ankles would support me for a few turns around the rink, for old timeís sake.
When I was six years old, neither my friends nor I had any idea what hockey was, let alone that it would someday be played on the streets and in gymnasiums. It wasnít until sometime in the late Ď60s that we had the day off from school and the kids down the street sent me home for my momís broom so I could join them playing hockey on the frozen street.
One winter break I went to call my friend, Teen Angel, to see what he wanted to do. He was standing on his back porch with a garden hose spraying the snow with water from the tap. I was hysterical and nearly hurt myself when I fell over laughing. But Teen Angel had the last laugh the next day when he showed me his very own ice rink where he learned to skate.
As with most things, from there it escalated. First I traded in my momís broom for a real hockey stick. Then as my friends learned to skate, I got a pair of figure skates because with them you could learn faster, so we thought. Then, when I outgrew those figure skates, it was off to Two Guys Department store for hockey skates. That wasnít because I wanted hockey skates, but because the hockey skates had steel toes which were better to stop the frozen puck with, my dear.
Throughout those formative years we played hockey more than most kids played baseball and football. We played field hockey in the large open field across the street at the old Soho isolation hospital.
We honed our slap shots, wrist shots and dekes in the street shooting at a home-made net. We waited until cars drove past us and used them to screen our slap shots. So what if once in a while we hit the back fender of a passing car, we were just kids. We took turns in goal and fended off each otherís shots against a two-on-one break. And, it was good, clean fun.
But my generation was at the awkward age in the towns where my friends and I grew up. It turned out that we were already too old to join a league where we could learn to skate and play hockey too.
And by the time we were ready to go to school, most of us didnít really have enough ice time to get into college level play.
We were not complaining. We played to have fun. And thatís what we had when we played hockey whether it was on the street or the flooded and iced-over playground or wherever.
On those rare occasions when we rented Branch Brook Arena or South Mountain Arena at some ungodly hour of the night, we donned every piece of real hockey equipment that we owned and played our hearts out in rag-tag makeshift teams. And guess what? We still had fun.
In the early days when we played hockey, real sticks were hard to come by. When we wanted real hockey jerseys, we took a bus to Madison Square Garden and bought our sporting goods at a store thatís still there today. It was the first time we actually saw real hockey equipment in person.
Teen Angel built the goal net we used. A few beams here and some chicken wire there, and a little baling wire here and it looked just like on TV. Sort of. He even made his own goalie stick. We called it ďthe battle axĒ because that was about what it weighed. Then weíd all share it when we had to take turns in net.
For our glove hand, we used a baseball mitt, and for our facemask we used our face. And except for one soprano, and one concussion, we all came through relatively unscathed.
I keep remembering that I read something by former Nutleyite Martha Stewart about how she would travel to the Mud Hole and skate there with her friends. Like a lot of other folks who grew up in Nutley, Stewart enjoyed the coziness of the Mud Hole in the winter for ice skating.
My friends and I never skated at the Mud Hole. We did fish there once and Teen Angel caught the only fish that anybody caught. Before I ever met Teen Angel and the hockey pucks, skating seemed so foreign to me. My cousins Bobby and Tommy lived across the street from Booth Park and they invited me to skate with them on the frozen Third River. Of course, I watched them for a while, then got bored with the sissy sport.
That was in the days when the Third River and the Mud Hole froze and kids skated there, just like in Martha Stewartís memories on the last page of her magazine.
But thinking of dear, rich Ms. Stewart and those long ago ice skating forays reminds me of the huge publishing empire she established with a little macramť and baling wire, so to speak.
Perhaps if I had only learned to skate a few years earlier, then I would be finished with my third book by now, especially with the chapter on learning to play hockey with my momís broom on the frozen street.
But for now, Martha, save your car fare, because the Mud Hole hasnít frozen over yet, and the bottom is, of course, full of mud. Our north Jersey winters arenít what they used to be.
First published in Rambling Round column as "Watch out Ms. Stewart, skating's contagious" by Worrall Community Newspapers, on February 6, 1997.
New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.
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