This story comes from David Boivin who grew up near Roseland Lake in South Woodstock during the 30’s and 40’s. If you stand near the north end of the common on the Hill, looking toward the front of Woodstock Academy, you’ll likely notice the tall and narrow upstairs center windows. Behind these windows is the second-floor auditorium and stage with a wooden ceiling eighteen-feet high. The windows are fitted with long, dark shades that were pulled down as needed during the daytime when the auditorium was in use.
Over the years they had been replaced a number of times and one day, after yet another set of new shades had been hung, Dave was heading home after tumbling practice and noticed the discarded auditorium shades in the janitor’s dump behind the brick Agricultural building.
Dave looked closely at the canvas shades. Although faded and frayed along the edges, the material was in good condition, too good, he thought, to burn, though he had no idea what to do with them.
None the less, he rolled one of them up, tucked it awkwardly under his arm, and trotted the two miles to home. He was sure that sooner or later someone in the family would find a use for it, so he stored the shade away in the tool shed where it lay forgotten.
That February, the ice on Roseland Lake was over a foot thick and while most of the ice was roughened by the snow that had melted into the surface, some patches were smooth and offered good skating.
Dave grabbed his skates and headed for the lake. His friend, Henry Ask, had planned to go with him, but he’d had to stay after school, so Dave went alone.
A strong northwest wind threw 50 mile an hour gusts down the lake, driving the cold into him, but Dave laced up his skates and stepped onto the ice at the boat launch near the northwest edge of the lake. Immediately the wind began pushing him from behind and as he skated south down the lake, he went faster than he ever had before.
Skating back up the ice into the bitter wind was such hard work, that it forced him to unbutton his jacket to keep from overheating. Then, heading back south, he lifted his arms over his head and spread his coat into a sail. With the aid of the wind, he was traveling much faster than he had the first trip.
Dave began to think that, if his small coat worked so well, what would happen if he had a bigger sail? Once that thought had taken root, it was off with the skates, on with his boots, and a steady jog home to rummage through the tool shed. The first thing that caught his eye was the piece of rolled up canvas shade.
Behind the shed he cut a couple of saplings with the ax from the chopping block, then using his pocketknife, which he always carried just for jobs like that, he cut off several feet of the shade. He rolled it around the sticks, grabbed a piece of copper wire, and a wire cutter, and jogged back to the north end of the lake. It didn’t take long to make a cross frame with the sticks and wire, and then he used the rest of the wire to attach the cloth.
Back on the ice Dave held onto the crossed sticks and raised his sail. Instantly the wind caught it, and nearly pulled his skates from under him, but he managed to regain his balance and he was off down the lake, gaining speed at an alarming and exhilarating rate.
He bent his knees, turning them into shock absorbers, to ease the chattering vibrations generated by his skate blades flying over the rough surface. Still his speed increased and he wondered if anyone else had ever flown this rapidly across the lake. Had anyone ever gone so fast on ice skates before? What sort of speed record was he setting? There was no way to know and no time to wonder about it because it took all his concentration just to hang on and stay upright. If he lost his balance and went down it would be a long painful slide over the hard, rough surface of the lake.
But what he really needed to know was how close he’d come to the end of the lake. Unfortunately, he couldn’t see around the sail and then he began to think about the trees on the south shore of the lake. Hitting a tree at this speed, he thought, didn’t seem to offer much of a future.
The only thing he could do was to hurl the makeshift sail up and away, while at the same time trying not to lose his balance. “I must have been going at least 40 miles per hour, when I flung the sail up and over my head,” he said, “and didn’t I get a shock. The shore and all those trees were not a hundred feet away and coming up so fast there was little time to think.”
He had no time to slow down, and dropping to the ice at that speed would have torn his clothes to shreds. “I was sure I was going to die,” he said.
He hit the shoreline at full speed, leaped over the roughened pile of ice at the edge and ran as fast as he could through the snow, fighting to gain control, threading himself through the under bush and between the trees.
He was halfway up the wooded slope before he could stop. He turned and looked back at his tracks scarcely able to believe how close he’d come to flattening himself against one of those big round trunks.
Slowly, his heart rate dropped to normal and when the strength returned to his legs, he trekked back out of the woods, skated up the lake, put on his boots, and headed home for chores and supper.
“That was the most dangerous thing I ever did,” Dave said, “until I joined the Army and wound up flying planes and choppers in Vietnam. It’s a wonder I survived it.”
He looked up and grinned. “But I gotta say, that was some ride down the lake.”
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© Copyright 2008 Frost Hollow Publishers LLC & Robert Holland, (860) 974-2081.