It was a memorable winter evening in 1960 at our comfortable home in the mild inland coastal climate of Roseburg, Oregon when Dad made his surprising announcement.
“Boys, we will be moving to Knoxville. I will be assuming the job of Chief of Social Work Service at the VA Hospital there.”
Having some proficiency in geography as 5th graders, my twin brother and I chorused: “Knoxville, Tennessee!”
“No,” he corrected, “it’s Knoxville Iowa. We can expect to experience some snow there.”
Iowa was Mom’s birthplace. Her hometown of Dallas Center was reputed to have some of the richest farmland in the world. She was not adverse to this new lifestyle opportunity.
Naturally, we kids were both excited and anxious about leaving our friends and the wonderful physical environment of the Cascade Mountains and the Umpqua River, which coursed in front of our home. This environment was a “Daniel Boone and Huck Finn” explorers paradise to us!
Within a month, the “Great Leap” to Iowa occurred. Initially sojourning with our grandparents in Lamoni, we lost no time bundling up like Eskimos as the temperature had dropped to 32 degrees below zero at points. Partial-relief occurred with the arrival of a series of snow storms that blanketed everything in pure white.
A large pond dominated the view in front the bi-level farmhouse. We soon found ourselves testing this oval of ice. We had great fun sliding, slipping and falling about!
As life became consolidated at Knoxville, the next few years we became conditioned to all of Iowa’s four seasons. Winter’s arrival with Jack Frost found us doing vigorous hiking in the bottomland woods and sledding on the angular slopes in the neighborhood.
Now at junior high age, we became introduced to the challenge and joy of ice skating. Mom’s friend Catherine knew of a special place, a slough that had been formed from previous years flooding of Whitebreast Creek. Starting as novice skaters, a few weeks later we were off and racing to explore the vast sinuous stretches of the slough.
Later that winter, Dad took a group of us to Des Moines to watch the Des Moines Oak Leafs professional hockey team in action. This exposure inspired us to organize an interested group of friends to start playing hockey. Unlike our Canadian neighbors to the north, hockey was not a recognized activity in Iowa high school sports.
Our initial equipment was primitive and homemade. With some creative extrapolating from woodworking experience in shop class, sticks were created and the puck became a rounded piece of ice. Used football equipment was gathered up as we started to resemble a true picture of competitive comedy.
Player Bill produced a hockey stick of proportions that could have turned back advancing mastodons and Mongols. Some weeks later we discovered a hardware store that sold bonafide sticks and pucks.
When favorable ice conditions arrived, we were given permission from a nearby farmer who had a perfectly circular small pond. The hockey nets were two large cardboard boxes procured from the local Hy-Vee grocery store. They were anchored in a chopped ice bed with large barbell weights.
Action started when the puck was dropped in the center of the pond. Both sides then engaged in a merry melee to shoot the puck to the opposition’s respective net.
With a snowbank encircling the pond, it was sheer joy to check opponents like a good tackle in a football game, with negligible physical damage! The games, however, were not devoid of occasional casualties.
During a spill, one player pinched the top of his head with his earmuffs. Another incident involved a hard fall on buttocks which was resulted in a coccyx injury. One towering player was a little less gifted on basic coordination, spending plentiful time in a supine position.
Reddened knees was something we all just stoically accepted.
I fully believe this enduring and endearing relationship with winter served to steel stronger character and enable a deep respect and fascination for one of the most dynamic Midwest seasons.