This Winter Reminds Me Of Old Days

Norwich Harbor 1904

Photo courtesy Bill Stanley This photo of skating and sleigh riding on Norwich Harbor was taken in 1904 when, apparently, the winters were much colder than they are today.

Once upon a time, it seems to me, we had cold winters like this one every year. As youngsters, I remember sliding and skating, and, then, for the past few decades, it has never been cold enough to ice over the skating ponds, and there has been no decent snow to go sliding. As a youngster, when we got a couple of feet of snow, the roads, even after plowing, were covered with an inch or more of packed snow.

In the 1930s, very few people had automobiles, and it was possible for youngsters to slide down Broadway into Union Square. Some would turn left down Bath Street into Franklin Square.
The Stanleys lived on Cliff Place, and we would climb the tall hill next to St. Joseph’s Church and the convent. They called it North Cliff. We would slide down that steep hill, turn left, slide down Cliff Street, turn right on Roath Street, and slide across North Main Street into the front yard of the Norwich Department of Public Utilities.

The roads would be perfect for sliding, and every kid had Flexible Flyer sled. Often, we would attach the sleds to each other to make a train of eight or 10 sleds. It was dangerous, because turning corners with a long line of sleds, the end of the train would snap like a whip, and the kids would be thrown off their sleds. But, I don’t ever remember anyone getting hurt, and it was fun — really great fun.

When we moved to East Great Plain, my children, growing up, would skate on Ford’s Pond. The Raymond farm stood on the highland overlooking Ford’s Pond, and there was a steep bank that you could toboggan or slide down onto the ice.

The city always lighted Ford’s Pond, and they put up a shelter — a lean-to — where there was always a fire going. Folks could toast marshmallows, or cook hot dogs, or just get in out of the cold and get warm.

Favorite Spots

Every neighborhood had a favorite skating pond. On Laurel Hill, there was Crouch’s Pond. It was up on the hill across from the old Laurel Hill School. I think it cost a quarter to skate there. It was a private pond, and they always had a wonderful fire burning. Thinking back, in the ‘30s, it wouldn’t have been a quarter. It was probably more like a nickel or a dime. A quarter was a lot of money in the 1930s when some men were working for a dollar a day.

Up in Greeneville, where Sandy Lane Apartments are now, there was a pond that was wonderful for skating. In fact, in the summer, it was wonderful for swimming — often skinny-dipping.

Of course, Mohegan Park had two ponds. Spaulding Pond wasn’t used for skating, but there was a skating pond that was so popular. In those days, everybody had to walk to Mohegan Park. Nobody had a car. But the Mohegan Park skating pond was always crowded.

Hockey with Lefty

My favorite spot of all was in Lisbon. Just over the Lisbon Bridge, leading from Taftville, as you climbed the hill on top there was a great pond. It was attached to what we enjoyed for years in the summer — Palonia Park — owned by St. Joseph’s Church. It was a terrific summer spot for picnics, and there was swimming and boating. There was always a polka band playing polka music for dancing.

It was like a make-believe world, but in the winter, the pond at Palonia Park froze, the little pond was where my uncle, Lefty Dugas, used to take my brother, Jim, and me. He skated as well as he played baseball.

On a few occasions, I watched him and the older men have a pick-up game of hockey. I was amazed at how Lefty Dugas skated. Lefty was good at everything. Most of all, he was good at making friends and making people happy.

No Ice Age Yet

Of course, before my time, the rivers in the area were frozen in winter. They used to have sleigh races on the Thames River. They would race from Norwich Harbor down the Thames to the Trading Cove, about where Mohegan Sun’s beautiful hotel now stands.

We did have warmer winters in recent years, and that came with all this talk about global warming. If you will allow me an opinion, I thought it was absolute nonsense. I think this winter, and the winters leading up to it, have disproved the global warming theory.

As an old man who has spent his life in business, when I think of all the foolish things I have heard, global warming tops the nonsense barometer. Back in 1975, they were talking about an ice age coming. One magazine reported, or rather predicted, that by the year 2000 it would be so cold that automobiles would be able to drive from England to France across the English Channel, which would be frozen solid.

Maybe we just get caught up in our own importance, but this world has gone on for millions of years before us, and it will go on for millions of years after us. We will have hot summers and cold winters. We will have experts telling us what’s going to happen, and 90 percent of it will never happen.

The truth be known, I like hot summers, I like cold winters, and I don’t believe in evolution. I believe the world was created by a greater power, and that power will keep this old world spinning hot and cold for many more years than any of us will live.

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