It was 1968 and the frozen pond had been where my family had ice skated and ice fished for years. It was where we would have Christmas. We would go to the pond every winter for vacation. It was a much needed break from the tortuous school work we had to do. It was my favorite place to have fun since we got to go out on the pond after we opened our presents on Christmas day. I loved that pond and was an avid skater since I played hockey for the high school team. I remember that pond since I was little; taking the puck and holding it in my hands. It would barely fit in my hands but I remember how heavy the puck felt. I remember holding the fishing rod when I was a little older and catching my first fish. My dad was so happy. He hugged me and told me I was a born fisherman. It was a memory I would never forget.
We only visited the frozen pond in the winter for our yearly trip. It was all I could think about in the boring classroom as we did long division and listened to the teacher go on and on about how this was going to make us educated adults one day and great members of society. It was now winter time and we had just finished reading Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea." I was supposed to help my dad pack and go over our list and made sure we had everything for our trip. I wondered what I would get for Christmas that year. A red rider bb gun was on my mind, but I usually got something for hockey. My passion.
We were really good this year and we planned on qualifying for state. We had a solid team and I was captain. I was only a sophomore but I had skated since I was five and was good with the stick so it seemed only natural that I would make varsity and become one of the captains. My parents sure were proud and I was thankful for what God had given me. I was a kid in a candy store waiting for my candy as we drove 5 hours to our winter cabin in the woods. There was the pond in the back and it was stocked full of fish; my favorite was the trout. My mom cooked the trout on a cast iron skillet with tons of butter and garlic and squeezed a fresh lemon.
My dad had taught me how to filet a fish when I was 8 and so I fileted the fish that we would catch and my mom would cook them on the wood stove in our cabin in the woods. Our cabin was rustic with a sweet, piney smell of maple. We would tap the trees nearby and get fresh maple syrup for our pancakes on a snowy Christmas Eve as we opened presents singing a carol. It was magical. It was forever etched in my memory of a time never forgotten and how special this place was.
Most people would laugh that it's just a cabin in the woods and what's so special about that, but it was my escape. My childhood and my memory of family and the frozen pond where I grew up. It was my time to skate and think of winning a state championship and shooting the winning shot to win the state championship. It was my place to dream. It was my happy time away from school and the only time my parents weren't fighting about money and how little of it we had. Or how I would get disciplined if my grades weren't that good. We lived on a farm and I had a lot of chores to do as well as hockey practice. I hated my chores. I hated living on that farm, but I loved that one time when we went to our cabin in the woods and fished on that pond. It was the time when my parents got along and we had fun. They laughed and seemed to be on common ground and they never fought. They talked about how good things were going to be and not worrying about the farm going under or paying the bank every month. It was my quiet time. It was my happy place. It was the only thing besides hockey that I looked forward to the whole year.
Life seemed monotonous or sort of a drag and I wasn't that good at school so this was it. The pond was my solace; my playground and my memory of the good times. It was the time my dad had taught me to skate, fish, and work with tools in the shed. He had taught me life lessons and would actually talk to me as my dad. My dad never talked to me because he had so much work to do with the farm and raising a family. My dad just disciplined me and told me to do my chores and get good grades and never become a farmer because it had taken all his strength and he said it was God's work but he was hanging on a string and he always worried himself to death.
He worried to the point he would pace and pace and never sit at the dinner table muttering to himself praying that we would get a good crop. It was all nonsense to me because once we were done eating I had to feed the chickens. Then at night I had to read a chapter out of the good book and recite the Lord's prayer before I went to bed. Other kids had it easy compared to me; they didn't have a farm to tend to, or do chores and go to hockey practice every day. I loved practice but our coach was kind of a hard ass and made us do lots and lots of conditioning; which made me tired and all I could look forward to was the chores and homework I had to do at home.
My grades weren't that good and I wasn't a scholar like most kids so my parents always harped on me that if I didn't get good grades I wouldn't get a scholarship to a good school and I'd be stuck being a poor dumb farmer. That really hit home; were my parents really poor dumb farmers. They really wanted the best for me and had sacrificed so much for my hockey it seemed like I had to get good grades and succeed at hockey. If I didn't my dad would bring out the wheel barrow and teach me a lesson on how to sprint with a wheel barrow, and occasionally he wouldn't spare the rod but teach me the hard cold truth that life wasn't fair and life wasn't going to spare me either.
It didn't happen often but I just wasn't that good at school. It seemed boring to me and it was all I could do to stay motivated and wanting to learn. No more books, no more teachers dirty looks, and no more chores. It was time to load the station wagon with fishing tackle, skates, presents, and lanterns. I only brought my skates since we didn't have room for my hockey gear and I didn't want to wear it anyway. I had dog eared a page of Hemingway's "Old Man and The Sea" because it was my favorite passage and I longed too to be on a boat fishing finding solace in man's fight against the sea and the quintessential fish. I was going to catch that fish only in my head but it was my imagination with my fishing rod as my dad cut a hole in the pond. I read that passage over and over again laughing to myself that we would win state and that would be my challenge with the sea. I would catch the marlin. Poor Santiago, but lucky me.
We were going to the cabin in the woods. My parents listened to the radio as we drove to the cabin, and I was excited to fish on the pond. I could taste the trout and was ready to tap the trees for fresh maple syrup. It was warmer this year than most winters, and I didn't have to wear my down jacket.
Most winters the snow had enveloped the ground as ice crystals had snow flaked the windows on our beat up station wagon. Most winters I had to wear long underwear or risk the feeling of icy cold wind coalescing my body. This time it was a little warmer and I was like a hot dog roasting in the fire as my parents blasted the heat. My dad went the speed limit always preaching to me the lesson of keeping my seat belt on, going the speed limit and not getting a ticket. He had taught me not to go that fast on the tractor because it could ruin the crop, tear a belt, or cause an accident. He reminded me over and over again as if I was a little child. Always preaching, always reminding me over and over again. It was just squabbling over and over again, but I was just ready to get to the frozen pond and do some quality ice fishing, and getting some hard skating in so I could get some hockey time in so I wouldn't be rusty when we got back.
The squabbling was silenced by me eagerness to open my presents by candle light singing a carol and swabbing my fork with the last bite of pancake as the maple syrup drenched that ever so fluffy, light, crisp flour laden pancake bite. It was all I could think about. We got to our destination, and I swung open the door ready to unpack our stuff to the cabin. I reflected on a moment of surprise as I had a fond memory of snow covering the ground and the roof of our cabin.
Our rustic cabin was snow free, but I didn't mind it would be a good Christmas after all. I opened the rusty lever on our station wagon door and started taking our stuff to the cabin. I always took the heaviest stuff in first being the wise woodchuck on this special holiday. My parents were in good spirits and laughing all the way. They took in the presents and sat in their chairs heating the wood stove as I got the rest of the stuff. I whistled and sang a song that my buddies and I had listened to; something akin to devil music my father would say. It wasn't Godlike and he would call them heathens, but I didn't care if my buddies liked it so did I. It was the first time I had a swig of whiskey too with my buddies sharing a smoke or too trying to be a man or the definition of a man back then; seeing the Marlboro commercials on our old television. I had been accustomed to life on the farm and with it God's law that prevailed over our family and our way of life, but it was my secret and my being rebellious that made me a better hockey player. It was my whiskey rebellion that I called it to my friends as I yelled from the rafters.
Oh what a childhood and oh the good times I had away from the chores and the preaching, and finally at that pond I grew to love. It was my childhood. It was my oasis. It was my proving ground. It was my happy place, and as the years had gone by and as I grew older I grew fond of that pond and the memories that happened there. The cabin didn't have electricity like our farm so we had to rough it and gather fire wood for the stove and I was the hauler. As my dad would say, "Put one foot in front of the other son, and gather me up some of that tinder, and make sure it's dry." Dry to the bone it had to be or I would get the wrath of God. The ground was sparse and snowless. I could see the wood and I carried my axe as I went foraging for the driest wood in the forest.
Hunting, looking, gathering up the driest wood I could find. I stacked it by the cabin overlooking the pond. I stacked I stacked and I stacked until I could stack no more, but each time I looked out at the pond and I had noticed something faint. It didn't dawn on me until I had stacked the last log that the pond wasn't as thick with ice as it had been in recent years. It was still skate-able I thought. My dad had warned me when I was little never to go on thin ice and make sure it was thick or I could fall in and get frost bite or even drown because their weren't people around for miles, and like trees in the forest do they really hear a sound.
He warned me and warned me and taught me where to pick a spot on the ice to go fishing; he had learned from his dad. But these thoughts were distant in my head as I was ready to skate and go fishing. I decided to write in my journal. This is what I wrote: The pumpkins were bare as the turkeys struttin' and the fodders in the shock. The snow was a missing as Santiago fished from the dock. I wasn't that great of a writer but I loved to journal and write stories. I was going to be a newspaper reporter or a sports writer if things went well. I journaled some more and wrote "state champions this year." It was time for the owls to win a state championship and bring it home to our school. I was psyched up to skate and skate hard.
It was my winning goal that would win us a state championship. It was my puck in that goal that would win it for us, and I would get out of that stupid town and find a nice girl to settle down with and get that scholarship coach would tell me I was destined for. I got my skates and went down to the pond. I had taken off my long underwear since it wasn't as cold and left my jacket at the cabin. It was still winter and the pond was frozen over as so I could tell. I carried my skates on my shoulder and headed down.
My flint was in my jacket and I had left it behind. Sometimes I would check our traps and start a fire, but this time I was dead set on winning that state championship and skating the hardest I could preparing myself for a stellar season. My parents had decided to go to town and get some supplies at the local five and dime. We had forgotten a few things. It was a jaunt to the pond and I was ready to skate till the death. As our coach called it when we had conditioning. Skate till the death and we'll be champions. That's what we did or at least that's what it felt like. So I envisioned my maneuvers and how I would race down from my own goal rescuing the puck and taking it to center ice moving and moving guiding the puck across the ice and then finally hitting a shot heard round the world and cementing itself inside the goal.
So I put on my skates laced them tighter than I ever had before and started my way to the pond. I looked at the pond and it didn't seem as thick as before but that didn't stop me. Reason didn't strike me as I was dead set on skating. I didn't check the ice as I was supposed to as my dad had taught me. I didn't think it through. It looked solid enough for me as I stood there walking on it. There I was on Walden's frozen pond about to be the next state champions. There I stood taking it all in breathing that cold fresh air as I was about to embark on a journey of true determination. A determination of focus; that focus I would soon regret. I walked out gingerly at first but with each step I was more and more confident and ready to embark on my victorious journey with the sea and on the 85th day catch that Marlin.
It was my time and our time for their were 12 seniors on the team and me the sophomore captain who would lead our team to victory capturing its first state title. We had our picture in the paper and went nearly undefeated the year before. It was our year and we had 12 seniors to prove it along with a talented young sophomore. We were ranked 5th for that year but our coach knew we had a chance to win it all, and I was our secret weapon. The other teams had overlooked me because I was only a sophomore but I was going to prove the papers wrong.
It was my time as captain and my work ethic and my time to shine. I walked to the center of the pond ready to do my best, but as I was about to skate I heard a snap. The snap happened three times as a sudden chill ran down my back. The ice creaked and in a moments notice I fell in. It hit me like a ton of bricks the icy cold water shot through me and I was cold as ice. What I did I had never done before. I had always checked the ice over and over again like my dad had taught me to do since I was little and here I was drowning in the icy sea actually an icy pond but I felt like Santiago for the first time unlucky on his 84th day. This time I was more than unlucky I was stupid I thought to myself. How could I not check the ice? How could I walk on thin ice? Why hadn't I listened to my father preach? How could I be this stupid?
The stupidity lacked substance while I was gobsmacked in a deep stupor while drowning in an icy pond. My stupor ran vivid as my body echoed deep spasms of icy tonnage surrounded by layers of cold; icy cold water. The layers of icy cold water surrounded my every movement and bellowed a deep cry of sobbing weeping tears of desperation glued stuck and forever clasped to its icy veneer as I flapped tirelessly in the icy cold water of that frozen pond I had known for years and now I was in the thick of it. The shock ran deeper and deeper now confused to what I was supposed to be doing. What was it again? Where had I gone wrong? And why was in this position. If time could only tell. The shock led me to panic and that led me to reality. And reality spoke. It spoke opened it's mouth and screamed to the top of its lungs. The reality was I hadn't thought or prepared myself for a situation like this. I panicked under the water; as the reality waned deep into my brain as I swallowed some of that icy water instead of holding my breath. I could feel it's icy veneer, and with it's ice cooled exterior it waned purple. Purple in a cloud of smoke.
My brain had a thought as the cold strangled the last surviving nerve into egregious anger and led me to drag my feet to the hell that I was living right then and now. My anger erupted into a sea of frothing nightmarish sounds of pounding archaic waling sounds. It pierced my ear drums as well as shot adrenaline into my system. The adrenaline shot through my legs like a thunderbolt and I untied the skates somehow from my feet. I had come to the conclusion that I was in hell right now. I was struck with a mighty blow.
This time it hurt and I could feel the pain coalesce my body as it consumed every inch of it to the top of my head and down to my feet. The pain was unbearable. This time I lacked strength and lacked motivation as well as something to calm my nerves as the feeling of pain suddenly shot through my nerves straight to my body and back to the point of no return.
The initial shock and numbness had disappeared and now I was at the point of death. The episode of drowning had just begun and i was soaking in it. I was drowning. I was barely alive. The pain had crept inside me and stayed their a fortnight not wanting to leave.
The icy cold water was inside me and all around me. It was swirling and swirling and coming ever so close as to halt my every movement. It was this time I was in it to the death. The thorny icy cold water had awoke and this time it was mad. It was mad at how I had become drunk with death and to the point of no return.
Was it going to kill me? It had knocked me on my proverbial ass and made me think about how I was never going to do this again. Why hadn't I listened to my father? If I did I wouldn't be in the situation I was in. The complete shining example of the dire situation I was now in. I had at last reasoned with my situation.
My situation was dire as it was real. I thought about Santiago and I thought I'm wrestling with the icy sea and this is real. My marlin was getting away as I was drowning in the icy water. I kicked as the adrenaline I had forgotten about started to remember where it was and it started to gain consciousness and suddenly awoke in a panic. The panic started at my feet and I kicked and kicked like a tornado gaining speed.
It had moved from my feet to my hands and I started treading water and kicking violently as I got my head above water. I could see again and I saw light at the end of the tunnel. I tried to find the edge of the ice where I fell in. I grabbed it pulled with all my might and got out. It was cold and I was frozen but I got off that frozen pond and Walden had witnessed a miracle.
I was lucky to be alive. I thanked God right there and then and told him I would be the best person I could ever be and I would listen to my father and do well in school, but I wasn't out of the clear yet. My situation was dire and my parents were nowhere to be found. My flint was back in the cabin, and I had no clothes to change into. I had no blankets, no fire, and here I was desperate and cold. Freezing cold chattering to death as my core temperature was going down.
Hypothermia was inevitable and death soon knocked at my door again and I felt like drowning again. Drowning in a sense of why had I forgot my flint and why couldn't I start a fire. I started screaming at the top of my lungs for my parents but there was no one. It was still a jaunt to the cabin and my body was shivering, my breathing was rapid, my blood vessels started to constrict.
Fatigue had set in as well as impaired judgment and lack of coordination. Fatigue had lessened my ability to think. What was it that I was supposed to do? I couldn't tell. The fatigue gripped my heart and started to shunt it. My heart rate started slowing down and my breathing started to fail.
My breathing slowed and time was passing as death was racing. I knew if my organs started shutting down it was over and I would be sitting there dead with no state championship. The nightmare was real and time was inevitable taking my life as I lay there slowly breathing. The cold was taking effect my judgment was that I didn't think I was too focused on the state championship and dreams of sugar plums in my head that I had totally forgot what to do. I had forgot my jacket which had my flint.
My jacket would have kept me warm. I had lost all thought. All I remember is waking up in the hospital. My parents later told me as best as they could that they removed my cold wet clothing replacing it with dry clothing, and taking me to the hospital.
There the doctors used active core rewarming they called it using intravenous fluids to irrigate body cavities. Then they used a heart-lung machine to keep me alive. No internal damage or brain damage; I was lucky and with it we won the state championship that year. I had totally recovered and played my best hockey. I'll never forget how I lapsed judgment, and learned a valuable lesson.
About the author
I published Trigonometry Simplified on Amazon. I like to write fiction as well as non-fiction. This is all a learning process for me and as I progress through this maze called life hopefully my passion and writing becomes greater.