As I was cleaning out the garage recently I came across my father-in-law’s battered old hockey skates. The pair of blades, tattered laces knotted up in a bow, was hanging on a rusty nail off to the side of my dartboard.
Just looking at the skates instantly reminded me of a conversation I’d had with him during Thanksgiving dinner. As the kids sat in front of the television playing video games he watched them for a while, smiling and then began talking about Rocky Woods – a reservation in Medfield that now features numerous walking paths through sprawling hills of white pine and red oak trees and four man-made ponds that were originally created for fighting fires.
“But back when I was a kid,” he remembered, “it was the place to be on the weekends. That was our hangout. In fact it was everyone’s hangout because there just wasn’t anywhere else to go. And there wasn’t anything else to do.”
From the 1940s (the reservation was established in 1942) through the early 1960s Rocky Woods represented the ultimate in outdoor family entertainment for the people of Medfield and it’s neighboring towns. The winter festivities centered on
ice-skating. On Friday and Saturday nights families would lace up their skates and glide across the ice to the strains of holiday music on the PA system.
“I have vivid memories of anxiously waiting for the ice to be cleaned,” he continued. “Back then we didn’t have a Zamboni. Instead they had a World War II Jeep with a plow on it. The ice would be flooded and the truck would go back and forth until the ice was as smooth as glass.”
Overlooking the illuminated pond (which gave it a cozy glow at night), at the top of a hill, was a lodge where you could warm yourself, shoulder to shoulder, in front of a big stone fire place, fill your belly with hot dogs, hamburgers, hot chocolate or, the children’s personal favorite, frozen Snicker bars. It was a wholesome family oriented environment that drew people together. A point in time those who experienced it now lament.
Once television came along things really changed because other forms of entertainment came soon after that chewed away at such a quaint idealization of family fun. As bowling alleys, movie theatres and fast food restaurants came to town indoor distractions began to erode the charm of a night outdoors beneath the stars.
“The thing about Rocky Woods back then was it was communal. In the summertime it was jam-packed. You could have picnics, go fishing, rent a boat or go up to the fire tower where you could see all the way to Boston. But it was during the winter that I had the most fun.” He went on to describe how the local boys would put together hockey teams that would challenge the teams from other towns for daytime battles on the ice.
The games would be played on Chickering Pond, which at one time had been a swamp but was excavated, along with the three other ponds on the reservation. “I remember our team name was the Millbrook Maulers,” he said with a laugh. “Our biggest rival was the Harding Street Hard Hitters!”
He paused for a moment and then added, “You don’t see kids doing stuff like that anymore; creating their own fun. At least not with the enthusiasm we had. But then, like I said, Rocky Woods was really all we had.” Unfortunately those halcyon days are now long gone. Rocky Woods is still a vital area where you can hike the trails, enjoy catch-and-release fishing or appreciate the wildlife but the sound of skates cutting the ice, children screaming with delight, holiday music filling the air and that sense of community one place can bring to so many people is now a distant memory.
But it is a memory worth cherishing and, perhaps, one that can be recreated in some way.
With a smile I dusted off those weather-beaten skates and hung them back up on that rusty nail as a reminder of a simpler time when a family skate was an anticipated event. Although there are plenty of things out there now to keep us entertained
throughout the year few, if any, bring us all together both physically and spiritually.
There is comfort in numbers and there is something genuinely romantic about mothers and fathers, sons and daughters and friends of all ages gathering at one spot in the fresh open air and enjoying one another’s company. That’s what Rocky Woods represented to so many people all those years ago. It was a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. And wouldn’t we all love to step into the calm reassurance of a Norman Rockwell painting every now and again?
Co-written by Matthew Hurley and Doug Masters