Summertime in the Belgrades
June 30 – July 6
by Rod Johnson
Before I tell you about my wonderful grandmother Alice Johnson, I need to fill you in on some background.
As a youngster, meaning more or less the age span from 5 to 10 years, during the 1950s, the winter activities in Belgrade Lakes were probably not any different than those of any small New England village. Somewhere in town or perhaps on the outskirts, a hill was claimed and named the "sliding place."
In our little village that many of you know from walking the street in the summer, a rather nondescript little hill exists behind what was then my parent's house. It is the house directly across from the lime green house, about midway through town.
At any rate, when conditions were good after a snow storm, we few kids in the village would improve a sliding track down over this gentle grade that ran all the way to the Mill Stream. To make this a "fast track" we would snowshoe up and down the hill until we had a track perhaps 4 feet wide. Just at dusk, about 4:00 p.m. in those cold months, we used my mother's sprinkler can and lugged water from the kitchen sink spigot out to the track and sprinkled it on. During the cold night an ice track was created by mother nature. Most days after school, we kids would have wonderful gatherings which we called "sliding parties."
The track was fast for us little munchkins aboard the Flexible Flyer sleds and aluminum discs, even an old time bob sled that could take as many as 5 or 6 kids at once. Sometimes a big chunk of waxed paper worked well too. The one rule that mother enforced was no going out on the Mill Stream ice. Sometimes we were going so fast that we had to purposely tip over just before leaving land for the iced over stream.
No ice travel was permitted until the fathers had checked the ice thickness and given the okay. If the thumbs up came we not only slid out onto the stream but in later years had skating parties too, with bonfires right on the ice. Some years the conditions were right to skate all the way out through the narrows and onto Great Pond, though most usually that was not the case. When the dam is open the stream is never safe to skate on.
As you can imagine, kids got wet from the ice and snow and cold hands were a problem. Some kids came with no mittens, and that's where Grammie J. showed her colors. While my mother made hot donuts for us sliders, Gram would call in any kid without mittens. She would instruct them to lay their hand on the table over a piece of felt cloth, then briskly trace around the perimeter of the little hand and send them back out.
Within fifteen minutes she would cut out 4 "hands" and sew up 2 mittens that would more than do in a pinch. She'd then yell from the back porch for that child, who left with warm mittens to make a few more sled runs before heading home with warm hands.
That was Grammie Johnson, who lived her adult life on School Street in the Lakes. My grandfather Ernest built the house in the early part of the 20th century where they raised 3 boys, Clifford, Albert and Walter. Grampa J. died in 1952 while tending a trap line down in lower Long Pond, actually Ingraham Stream. Grammie spent a lot of time at our house after his death and wintered many more years with Uncle Al and Aunt Lydia Johnson in Boca Raton, Florida where she died in 1959.
Thank you Gram for your generosity to all, and for your good humor. I remember that you liked to steal my biscuits at the supper table!
Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.