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This morning, the ice is starting to melt from our driveway.

Last week, we got hit with what meteorologists like to call a “wintry mix” which left a quarter-inch sheet of ice on everything, mostly notably, all walking and driving surfaces. Funny, when I hear we’re getting six inches of snow, it doesn’t faze me (snow shoveling doesn’t bother me; fact is, I quite enjoy it) but ice is paralyzing, especially since the temperatures plummeted immediately following the event, which meant we were stuck with it for a few days.

Thanks to modern removal methods and lots of vehicle traffic, the roads improved quickly, but our driveways and sidewalks didn’t rally as well. After the wintry mix finally stop “mixing,” I tried sprinkling some ice melting stuff on it to see if that would break it up. It was pet friendly, lawn friendly, eco-friendly, and apparently, ice friendly as well, because it had relatively little effect on anything.

If one really wanted results under such conditions, the only thing to do was to go out with a chopping tool (not sure of the official nomenclature of such an implement) and methodically pick away at the situation, a task I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

I had neither the tool nor the ambition to undertake such a mission, so I did what it appears many of our neighbors did: tried the best we could not to walk on our driveways and hope for a warm day. (Sometimes, denial and avoidance are the best tools for chipping away at a situation.)

For the next few days, I’d skitch and shuffle to get the mail or put out the garbage and recycling bins, trying my best to save 1) my joints and bones and 2) my dignity. (Why is it that every time I slip or fall outside, someone happens to be passing by?)

Luckily, I was able negotiate the conditions without incident (truly a first for me), and now, nearly a week later, it appears today is the day, the day when I can safely and confidently navigate the driveway on foot. It also means I’ll have no excuse when I do trip and fall (no doubt in front of dog walkers, postal carriers and other passersby) on a perfectly dry, smooth piece of concrete. (And that will happen, mark my words.)

Funny because that patch of ice got me thinking about how much things change over time. When I was a kid, we would have used that same sheet of ice to our advantage, and we often did, until the “authorities” showed up (parents, playground monitors, etc.) admonishing us to “Get off the ice; it’s dangerous and you’re going to hurt yourselves!”

Apparently the only time ice was safe was when we were wearing skates, which are basically dull knives attached to one’s feet just waiting for the user to trip so they could gouge a chunk out of one’s shin. (Again, I speak from experience.)

But merely sliding on the ice? No, nope, not a chance, this is not happening on my watch. Those were the directives whenever we encountered a beautiful sheet of ice that nature (or maybe a broken water main) had left on the school playground.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in about fifth grade on an unseasonably warm winter day. After we finished our lunches, we headed out for our 30 minutes of supervised but undirected recreation on the playground, which coincidentally, was slanted at almost the same pitch as our current driveway. (Maybe that’s what reminded me of this story.)

Anyway, as we ran outside trying to decide how we would spend our time, we all saw it: a beautiful thin sheet of ice that had formed on one end of the playground. At that moment, it was decided: there would be no kickball, frozen tag or making snow forts today. No, today, we’d be sliding.

Everyone knows when you receive such a valuable gift from God (and being a good Catholic school student, I was taught to believe in such things), you didn’t waste it. Thing is, without any discussion or even incidental looks or gestures, we all knew if we chose to partake in such a caper, our time would be limited. You see, under some school statute or clause, “sliding,” while not specifically called out by name, was prohibited in all its forms (how many forms there are, I have no idea) at St. Henry’s Catholic School.

Therefore, we need to get in as many runs as we could before the “guards” (parent volunteers who pulled playground duty that week) saw what we were doing and immediately shut down our operation. Usually, these capers (which also included things like going down the slide backward or on one’s knees or anything that involved tackling) had a lifespan of 10 to 15 minutes.

The hope was we could have some fun, no one would get hurt (we didn’t worry about that because, well, we were 11), and that the “heavies” would simply shut us down without sending anyone to the principal’s office.

And it worked. We lined up, four or five spaced out across the width of the “course,” got a running start and slid as fast and as far as we could. If you had nylon snows plants or a synthetic jacket, you could make it all the way to the fence marking the end of the playground and school property. For a kid, this came in handy because it kept us from sliding into the middle of the street.

For the guards -- who caught on quickly to what we were doing -- they saw it as dangerous, and more importantly, against the rules. That day, St. Henry’s must have deployed the “A” team of playground volunteers because not two or three runs into the session, they were on us, skitching and shuffling from the top end of the playground, blowing whistles and yelling. “Stop! Stop it! Stop it right now!”

Suddenly, everything came to a screeching halt, and there we were, inmates and guards facing one another. We knew the risks, and we also knew how this would eventually play out, if everyone just kept their cool.

“OK,” said the leader (I assume she was the leader because she had the whistle), “here’s what we’ll do. If you kids all stop right now, we won’t report this to the principal, and no one will get in trouble.”

There we stood, snotty-nosed and clad in mismatched outerwear, facing off with parents to whom I now give a ton of credit for taking playground duty. (I’d serve hot dogs and soda at hundreds of school events before I’d want a single shift of playground supervision.)

Slowly and quietly, we all dispersed, going back to our appropriate, school-sanctioned lunch-hour activities.

And then it happened.

Just as both sides relaxed and the situation regained a sense of normalcy, one kid (who shall remain nameless, primarily because I can’t remember his name) decided he needed one more. (And when is “one more” ever a good thing?)

Suddenly, he burst through the crowd, and at a full sprint, hit that patch of ice like he’d been born for just that moment. A second later, he put out his landing gear, executing a perfect butt drop. It was impressive. He not only made it to the fence, he hit it so hard – so perfectly -- that it stood him up. We all gave a collective gasp (students and parents alike).

He stuck the landing, unofficially scoring the first perfect 10 in playground ice sliding history, a fact lost on one, whether you were a “slider” or an “anti-slider.” The look of satisfaction on his face was matched only by the disappointment and anger on the faces of the playground supervisors, and the collective dread that populated our now-defunct team of “icers.”

Within five minutes, we had all been led back into our classroom, where we’d spend the remainder of recess sitting quietly, with our heads on our desks. All but one of us, our anti-hero, the outlier, the kid you needed “just one more.” He was awarded with a trip to the office and a detention.

By the end of the day, the custodians had destroyed our sliding venue, reducing it to bare asphalt, and I wish I could talk to one of them now because I just one question: “What kind of ice melt did you use? I’d like to get my hands on some of that for the next time we get hit with a wintry mix.”

© 2022 David R. Haznaw

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