We had several steep little hills on our home farm, perfect for sledding and skiing, especially skiing. My dad made my first pair of skis out of barrel staves, the curved slats from wooden barrels that were about three feet long. He nailed a thin strip of leather onto each stave for my rubber boots. I was maybe four or five years old, so I didn’t mind much that my barrel stave skis were clumsy and performed poorly on hills. They served just fine on the level, sort of like snowshoes.
When I was seven or eight, my grandfather Witt made for me my second pair of skis from two five-foot strips of birch wood that he steamed over a teakettle to bend up the front ends. He also nailed a strip of leather across the middle of each of them to accommodate my four-buckle rubber boots. They were wider than barrel staves, and with the turned up ends I could sail down the hills as well as any kid with “store-bought” skis. Unfortunately, the skis that grandpa made did not have grooves cut in the bottom to keep them going straight. If the snow was packed, I would as likely go sideways as straight ahead—an added benefit I pointed out to my friends who had “better” skis.
By the time I was ten, I received a pair of factory-made skis for Christmas. They were seven feet long, still with but one strip of leather to hold my now six-buckle rubber boots, and with two grooves on the bottom of each for superior control and steering. My dad bought them at Hotz’s Hardware in Wild Rose—each ski somewhere along the way had lost its mate. One ski was black, the other brown. Dad painted the brown one black so they, with some minor differences, became a pair. With my new skis, I skied to school, skied a trap line each morning, skied to neighbors, and of course skied at skiing parties the neighborhood kids organized. Somewhere in my shed at the farm I still have one of these old skis. I broke its mate when I hit a stone, or maybe when I got tangled up in a wire fence I tried to cross. The remaining ski, once more alone, has many stories to tell.
THE OLD TIMER SAYS: As we grow older we tend to forget things that happened and remember things that didn’t.
January 6, 2011, 5:30 p.m. Lacrosse Library Friends dinner meeting.