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Ice days are here; enjoy them while they last


AT THE RISK of generating nasty reaction from readers who just got their home heating bills (like I'm not one of them), I would like to put in a word for cold weather in long streaks, such as we've experienced recently, because it has created something we just don't get around here much - ice. Solid, thick, clean ice. Ice you can walk on, skate on, sprawl on, dance on, play bocce on.

Where I come from ...(Wait. I know what you're thinking: Here he goes with his New England memories again. But really, I don't indulge that side much and I've never once laid a where-I-come-from-we-had-snow-up-to-our-keisters - even though we didn't call it a keister - bit on readers in my snowanoid adopted home of Baltimore. So you ought to be able to handle a couple of paragraphs of boyhood nostalgia.)

Where I come from, some years the ice formed as early as Thanksgiving, usually in shallow flooded swamp marshes and bogs, and you had to catch it while you could - not before it melted, but before the snow came and buried it.

Word spread quickly about safe ice, and pretty soon all kids in the neighborhood and beyond were in a clearing in the woods, where in summer there had been swamp and mosquitos. We used snow shovels to shave the ice clean of the stubble of marsh weeds. We fixed up the chicken-wire hockey nets that had been left in the mucky brush the year before. The boys wore Bauer or CCM skates -brown. The girls wore white figure skates. We shared hockey sticks. If we didn't have a puck, we made one from wads of black electrician's tape, and once I think we used Stevie McGivenny's boot.

Once the snow came, of course, it was hard to find clean ice; shoveling it free of snow was a big pain. But for the times when the air was frosty and the earth was frozen - two or three weeks at a clip - we had solid ice, and you could skate every day after school, until dark, unless you got measles, mumps and the chicken pox (as I did one particularly excellent year for ice) or Albert DeSalvo, the alleged Boston Strangler, escaped from the nearby correctional institution and scared everyone indoors (as he did one memorable winter).

Ice doesn't always happen in central Maryland. You have to travel to the western part of the state or north to the frozen-in counties of Pennsylvania to find it.

But for the last two weeks, we've had ice without the covering snow, and the other morning, when I took my kids out to a friend's farm pond for a little hockey alfresco, I was reminded of those southern New England days, when cold weather was a thing to be celebrated, not scorned, a simple gift outright from nature.

The kids made their marks on the ice and they goofed around with hockey sticks and pucks. They pushed each other across the ice on plastic chairs. They pulled each other, using their hockey sticks as tow lines. They bowled rocks a la bocce across the frozen pond. One afternoon, they skated til dark.

Ice is a temporary condition. In fact, the meteorologists tell us that central Maryland could become a warmer place by the end of the first week of 2001, and - who knows? - they might be right this time. So we might have seen the best ice of the winter already. You have to catch it when you can.

Good hardware lasts

I received a short ton of mail in response to a day-after-Thanksgiving column suggesting that people around the Beltway skip the malls and forgo e-tail shopping for at least some holiday foraging in small stores in Baltimore and on the old, resilient Main Streets of the counties. Some of this mail came from merchants who said they appreciated the boost, but most of it came from people who said they were tired of the mall scene and felt a renewed civic responsibility to patronize locally owned stores.

There is a lot of affection out there for struggling hardware stores, in particular.

William Bettridge loves Muir's on Frederick Road, Catonsville's Main Street. "It's one of those wonderful places that stocks one of everything ever made, a godsend to an owner of an old home," Bettridge writes. "For years, it has been a gathering place for Catonsvillians."

Linda Kristie of Ellicott City recently went into Muir's on a mission - to find a replacement plug for an extension cord that was a favorite of an 88-year-old friend. (You know how some people get attached to extension cords.) It was the kind of cord that came with a round plug.

"I hadn't seen one since I was a kid," wrote Kristie. "I knew buying a new cord would be less trouble and probably cheaper. I went to Muir's. [Allan] Muir, the proprietor, not only had the part but actually attached it to make sure it worked. While he was working and storytelling, I had time to browse. The shop had some neat Christmas things. I bought a stocking and some huge peppermint sticks and other goods, all placed in a brown paper sack. What a pleasant experience. What fun possibilities. I've been mallbound way too long."

Our old pal Turkey Joe Trabert likes Lombard Paint & Hardware at Ann and Lombard in Southeast Baltimore. He's had a window screen fixed there while he waited.

Mark Elliott, proud son of Parkville (and the first TJI reader in seven years to be quoted in this column twice in one week), says: "Allow me to recommend a great little hardware store in the Parkville area. Strohmer's hardware store on Taylor Avenue, near Oakleigh Road, not only has aisles of thingamajigs the clerks at Home Depot don't know how to use nor where they go, but it is a ball-peen hammer's throw from Hill's Deli (great sour beef) and Hale's (great steamed crabs)! What else does a guy need?"

Souper singers

Would someone please write to Garrison Keillor and tell him to book Sue Trainor, Christina Muir and Jennifer Agner, of the local group Hot Soup, for "A Prairie Home Companion"? They belong on that show. And could you please mention that Keillor should get them to sing songs called "Soup," or "From Silence Into Song"? And, if Keillor needs evidence of the group's terrific harmonizing and sense of humor, he should get a copy of Hot Soup's last CD, "Soup Happens," through SOUPer Music Inc. in Columbia.


Rest in peace, John Steadman, you great, good gentleman. is the e-mail address for Rodricks. He can also be reached at 410-332-6166.

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