My Family's Ice Episode


(This column was first published in the December 22, 2003 issue of The Buffalo News.)


With winter finally arrived, this seems a good time to tell my family's ice story.


When I was a youngster in Rochester too many years ago my parents occasionally took us kids for a few hours of tobogganing in Powdermill Park. My mother and father, my older brother Vern and I would bundle up in our warmest clothing, load the toboggan on the roof of the old Chevy, and drive to the parking lot at the foot of a steep man-made slide.


That slide was a two-foot wide near-vertical chute about fifty yards long. I don't know how they did it but the park employees were able to freeze its base into solid ice.


We climbed the hill next to the slide, my dad pulling the toboggan and shooing me off whenever I tried to steal a ride.


At the top when our turn came, we set the toboggan on the short horizontal section of the chute and climbed aboard. Unfortunately, as the youngest I had to sit in the front, the scariest position. We each held in the legs of the one behind us by reaching around them to grasp the rope that ran along the toboggan's side.


When we were all set, my dad and brother would work us forward to get us going. I still recall my screams as we slowly tipped over the edge and began what seemed to be a free fall.


In the blink of an eye we were at the bottom, out of the chute and sliding across a quarter mile of icy snow. On one ride we skidded sideways and overturned to be strewn across the landscape.


But back we would trudge a half-dozen times to ride down again.


On the day of my story we finally set off to return to our car. It was only a few hundred yards but we could cut that distance in half by crossing Irondequoit Creek midway. My fearless brother dashed ahead and raced across the perhaps seventy-foot creek to show us that it was safe. I followed him more tentatively but made it across.


I think what decided my dad on following us was my mother's emphatic: "Walter, don't try it. You're too big. Come with me down to cross the bridge." My father took that as both a criticism and a dare.


Giving up, my mother set off for the bridge pulling the toboggan behind her.


Now you have to understand, at the time my brother and I each weighed less than a hundred pounds. Although he was older, he was wiry and I was fat so our weights were near equal. My dad, however, weighed just over two hundred so our testing the ice wasn't a good indicator.


Carefully he set out across the creek toward us. All went well until he was about half way and the cracking sounds that had accompanied him from the time he left shore began to increase.


My brother, the boy scout, shouted, "Lie down. That will spread out your weight."


Clearly that advice didn't appeal to my father. He stood still briefly and then, as the cracking continued to increase, made a dash for shore.


The ice immediately gave way and down he sank.


Fortunately the creek was only about three feet deep. Crashing forward, breaking new ice as he went but thankfully remaining upright, my father finally reached the shore.


The ride home sopping wet was bad enough for him. Still worse, dad knew he would have to put up with mom's "I told you so's" for the rest of his life.-- Gerry Rising