This story takes place at the “Little Meadow,” which was located near where 58 Ash Street is now. Generations of us kids from the Ash Street-Fenton Street area learned to skate there.
It was a small, shallow meadow probably about three-quarters of an acre, with two sides having about 30 bogs. At the start of the winter the dirt part was about an inch above the ice, with the grass shooting up about 3 feet. As the winter progressed, with snow and rain freezing, the water rose about 6 inches. Now, if the grass was gone, the meadow grew to about double the size. Then the boys could play hockey on one side, and the girls could skate on the other, plenty of room for everyone.
Most years we burned the bogs one or two at a time on cloudy days so the smoke blended in (after all, we were only 8-10-year-old kids).
On this particular Saturday morning, it was the first skating day of the year. It started off cold, but by late morning it was getting warm and the ice was getting soft — no skating this afternoon. It was supposed to snow that night, so in a few days the ice would be higher.
We made an “executive decision” to burn all the bogs before we went home for the day.
We didn’t have fancy equipment for skating. I learned to skate on an old pair of my mother’s black figure skates with newspaper stuffed in the toe of each skate. Those of us who didn’t have shinguards used a thickness of newspaper either taped or secured with elastic. We “borrowed” these newspapers from the younger kids to use as torches to light the bogs.
We commenced to light all the bogs, and just as we got them all burning and the smoke was rising, the fire whistle started blowing. Oh, no! Someone saw the smoke and called the Fire Department. We’re in deep trouble now! Three of our fathers were call firefighters, it was Saturday, they all were home, and they all would come to the alarm. What to do now?
We grabbed all our hockey gear, shoes, etc., and skated to the far end of the meadow. With skates still on, we ran into the woods about 100 feet, hid behind a stone wall and waited.
We heard the fire engine sirens coming toward us. There we were, hunkered down for 15 minutes … 30 minutes … 45 minutes … and … nothing. The fire in the bogs had long since gone out. The fire must have been somewhere else.
We skated back across the meadow, took off our skates and went home. I found out the fire call was for a burn barrel in someone’s yard that got away into a field on upper Pleasant Street.
From then on, for years when we burned the bogs, we did it the old way — one or two at a time on a cloudy day!