The Carding Chronicles are stories about the little town no one can find on a map of Vermont. When you subscribe to the Chronicles, a new story is delivered to your inbox every Friday. If you’re enjoying the Carding Chronicles, please share them with your friends!
“How many do you think will show up?” Diana asked as her husband tried in vain to ease himself out of bed without waking her.
“Not sure,” he whispered.”How many idiots are willing to get up so early on a cold Sunday morning to make ice?” She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Besides yours truly, that is.”
“Do you want my help in the kitchen?” She turned over to see the shape of his body outlined by the glow from their clock radio.
He leaned over to give her a kiss. “Nope, this is my gig. You stay in bed.”
She sighed, closed her eyes, and burrowed deeper under their quilt. “You don’t have to ask me twice,” she said. “Are the kids going with you?”
“No, I don’t think either one of them is interested in anything that happens at 4 a.m.,” Stephen said, pulling on his jeans and fishing a pair of heavy socks out of his drawer. “There’ll just be a few of us hockey heathens, no more. I’ll see you later.”
Stephen kept his boots off until he eased the back door of their second floor apartment closed behind him. Then he quickly shoved his clonking footwear over his toes, and clattered downstairs to the Crow Town Bakery.
Shadows moved. “Yeow,” he yelled, leaping back from the bottom step.
“Jeez, Dad. What kept you?” his daughter Faye said. “Wil and I were going to go back up and wake you.”
“What are you two doing here?” Stephen asked as his fingers darted over the security keyboard to turn off the bakery’s alarm system. “I figured you were good for at least a couple more hours of sleep.”
“Oatmeal,” Wil said, nodding his head from somewhere deep between his shoulders.
“Yeah, wouldn’t miss it,” Faye said. “Come on, Dad, let us in. We’re freezing out here. Who changed the security code again?”
“Your mother and I…,” Stephen began.
“Wow, look at the crowd,” Wil said before his Dad could finish. Stephen’s head jerked up. Six heads bobbed up and down by the front door.
“Hey, where have you been?” Ted Owens said as he stepped inside with his niece, Suzanna, and four more people behind them.
“I thought I was trying not to wake my family,” Stephen said as he reached down a large pot, and filled it with water. “But that turned out to be a waste of time. Any idea how many more are coming?”
Faye and Suzanna slid a large tub of rolled oats onto the counter while Wil retrieved a measuring cup and salt. “I know Lee Tennyson’s coming with his kids,” Wil said. “And my friend Brian. He’s never seen anyone make ice before.”
The front door of the Crow opened and closed twice more. “Could someone give me a head count,” Stephen said as he measured oats into the water. “I hope nobody minds golden raisins in their oatmeal because I love them.”
“Can we have cranberries too?” Suzanna asked. “I’ll cut them up.”
“Sure,” Stephen said as he sprinkled salt into his palm then tipped it into the pot followed by a good shake of cinnamon and a slurp of vanilla.
“Mmmm, oatmeal,” Paula Bouton said as she slipped up behind Ted to hook her arm in his. “I love this stuff.”
The bakery door opened again, and the din of excited voices rose a notch. Stephen twisted his head over his shoulder. “Faye, would you go see how many folks are out there?” he said. “I want to make sure we’ve got enough.”
Faye was back in a minute. “Twenty-one,” she said. “Should I get some of the cooked bacon out of the freezer, and heat it up?”
“Twenty-one? What’s going on? I thought there’d be just six or seven of us,” Stephen muttered, measuring more oatmeal. “And yeah, good idea on the bacon.”
“Well, last year was the first year for the rink, and I think most people thought you were a little crazy,” Faye said, her head disappearing into the large freezer. “But then then you and Ted got the pick-up hockey thing going, and now everyone wants ice time.”
“What about you? I thought you didn’t like hockey?” Stephen said.
“Hmm, yeah,” Faye said, spreading out slices of cooked frozen bacon on a cookie sheet. “But I’m thinking it might be more fun to play hockey than to watch it on TV.”
Just then, Stephen saw his daughter’s eyes flick in the direction of Wil’s friend Brian, and he swore he saw a quick blush color her cheeks. Could it be…?
Out in the front of the bakery, Paula piled bowls on a tray while Suzanna extracted a large jug of maple syrup from the refrigerator. As Ted counted out spoons, the excited talk reached a higher level, and then Stephen called out, “It’s ready.” He lifted the steaming pot of hot oatmeal from the stove, and everyone cleared a path so he could set it on the bakery’s counter.
Lee Tennyson’s youngest son, a boy of only four, squeaked as he jumped up and down. “Ice. Ice. Ice,” he chanted. Behind him, his two older brothers imitated the slap and whip of a hockey stick meeting a puck.
Bowls were filled, swirled with syrup, and puddled with milk. Everyone ate standing up while Faye circulated among them with a platter of hot bacon. Ted and Paula dispensed coffee in between bites of their own hot cereal.
“Anybody know what the temp is outside?” Andy Cooper asked.
“It was seventeen at our house when we left,” Lee Tennyson said.
“Whoa, here come the firetrucks,” the four-year old squealed from the front windows.
Two gleaming red engines eased their bulk over a low spot in the sidewalk surrounding Carding Green, their brakes hissing in the dark. Boots stomped, hats appeared out of deep pockets, and scarves were threaded around everyone’s neck.
Then the bakery’s doors opened, and Carding’s ice-making team clomped out into the snap of a January morning in Vermont.
“Okay folks, let’s roll. We can’t keep these trucks out too long,” Stephen called. “Ted, Andy, and Paula are in charge of the hose crews. Wil and Lee, you head up the perimeter detail. Everyone choose your team, and let’s go.”
The trucks’ pumps clicked on, droning mindlessly while water gushed out of their tanks. Three teams of three maneuvered the hoses so that the flow evenly filled the rink they’d constructed before Thanksgiving when the ground still accepted a spade. Wil and Lee set everyone else at regular intervals around the rink’s plastic liner to make sure it stayed in place.
Stephen raced around the edge, eyeing the deepening water level, hoping they’d done a good enough job leveling the ground under the plastic. Last year, an unseen lump at one end froze in place before anyone saw it, and caused everyone playing goalie at that end of the rink untold troubles.
“I want to play forward this year,” Suzanna told Wil as she smoothed out a small plastic fold.
“Are you sure?” Wil said, eyeing his sister’s best friend. He knew Suzanna was quicker than half the team when she was on skates. But, in the words of his grandmother, she was no bigger around than a minute. “What about checking?”
“Aww, nobody on the other team will ever catch me,” Suzanna said.
“Yeah, I know. But what about you checking someone on the other team?” Wil said.
On the opposite side of the oval rink, Faye chattered with Lee Tennyson about speed skating while Agnes Findley dreamed of gliding around the ice in perfect figure eights. The Tennyson boys abandoned their posts on the perimeter in favor of practicing their victory dance steps after making a goal.
Plans, dreams, and visions of victory soared high over the chug of the water pumps when suddenly, Faye realized she could see the features of Brian Muzzy’s face. She quickly turned away before he realized she was looking at him to see the colors of the sunrise reflected in the surface of the rink.
Her intent gaze caught the attention of everyone else, and they all turned to watch. Andy Cooper wiggled the end of the hose he’d been directing to free it of any stray drops of water then extracted his phone to check the weather forecast yet again.
“What’s the good word, Andy?” Ted called.
“Not supposed to get over 26 degrees today,” he said. “And there will be more clouds than sun this afternoon. I predict we’ll have ice by supper.”
A collective “woohoo” rattled around the green as the fire trucks reeled in their hoses before lumbering back to the station. Stephen slapped his soggy gloves against one another as the whole crew trooped toward the bakery to draw up schedules for hockey games, skating lessons for the kids, and to make room for general ice time for those interested in making perfect figure eights.
The scent of steaming wool mittens and hats soon made its way up to the Bennett family’s second floor apartment. When Diana detected the odor, she stretched then turned over, a smile on her face. Ice season had begun in Carding, and if she timed it right, the bakery’s kitchen would be clean before she got downstairs.
How perfect was that?
The next Carding Chronicle will be published on January 29. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.