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An Icy Tale of Survival

I had the pleasure of meeting these folks through their son Malcolm, who wrote the story below. I have posted this story in Passionate Islanders blog because of who and what the Lodge family represent. Passion for life. I had the pleasure of learning a wee bit and experiencing first hand the joys of rowing in a skull for two summers at the Lodge's cottage. BM

For my parents, Maurice and Jean Lodge of Charlottetown, skating was a lifestyle activity from the time they first skated together on the Saint John River at Fredericton in the early 1930s. Maurice, known then as “Sparky”, was studying electrical engineering at UNB and Jean Hamilton was a switch board operator with the NB Telephone Company. In subsequent years, from BC to PEI, they usually skated several times each week in season, and by the 1970s had become a common sight at Charlottetown rinks, gliding effortlessly on their 'reachers' (racing skates with long flat blades made for efficient skating and not hockey).

Maurice was an adventurous skater. In 1950 he skated the shore ice from Borden to Charlottetown and often skated to St. Peters Island and Meadowbank from their house at 13 Sydney Street. On another occasion he skated the Saint John River from Fredericton to Saint John.

Christmas Week 1982 commenced as a wonderfully clear and frosty time. The ice on Island ponds and estuaries formed quickly and was perfect for those keen and active persons happy to escape the trauma of holiday shopping for the joy of gliding over the mirror-like surfaces. On December 28th and 29th there was a thaw and heavy rain, followed by a freeze-up on New Year’s Eve. It created what seemed to be perfect skating conditions for Maurice and Jean Lodge, both over seventy at the time.

In the afternoon, at my offices on Pownal Street, I received a call from Dad advising me that the skating on North River above the causeway was perfect again and that I should make every effort to be there. This was a very common invitation as Dad was notorious for advising all those inclined to lethargy or even relaxation that there were recreational activities available and they should get off their butts and enjoy them. “Use it or lose it” was his sermon.

 The stage was set: mom and Dad would go skating on the river in the early afternoon with the understanding I would join them a little later. About 4:30 p.m., nearing dusk, I drove out the TCH with some friends following close behind. Just moments from the causeway I met my parents little car approaching me and sensed something was amiss. They would never leave the ice that early unless WW3 had started or the house was afire. I U-turned quickly and pulled them over at the Maypoint intersection. As I approached the passenger door Mom rolled down the window, looked at me with wide eyes, and said, “We almost died!” Then added more calmly, “We fell in!”

She still had her skates on and was soaking wet. Dad was driving in his stockings and looking more embarrassed than worried. After a moment, Mom said: “We're OK, but be careful and be sure your friends don't go too far up the river. The ice is thin along the shore because of the warm runoff during the thaw.”

The long and short of it was this: Maurice, in his tights, was programmed to go as far as the ice would go and in a straight line. Why not? The further you go and the faster, the more fun! Jean would follow him just about anywhere but stayed closer to shore and wore warmer clothing, just in case. Both were very accomplished skaters and could move quickly, so no time was lost getting up river. About three kilometers from their car Mom suddenly broke through thin ice and became fully immersed in freezing water. Dad was about 500 meters beyond her and did not see her fall in. Nor did he for another few minutes. Sensing she was not staying up with him, he slowed down, looked back for her, and saw her waving at him. He waved back! Further, Mom's yells had no effect as he suffered a 90% hearing loss and didn't wear his hearing aids when having fun. Nothing was going well for Jean at this point.

After several minutes he looked back again and was puzzled. She hadn't moved and seemed too short. Then, even though a religious man with pragmatic beliefs, he claimed he had a spiritual message. “Jeannie's in trouble!” Olympic skaters could not have covered the distance to her as quickly as did Maurice, but they might have stopped before skating onto the same thin ice and into the drink with her! It was then he felt the cold Jean had endured for many minutes, punctuated with thoughts about when and where she might die.  She had removed her mittens so she could dig her fingernails into the ice in an effort to climb out onto the fragile, freshwater ice which kept breaking away. However, having Maurice in the water with her gave her renewed hope. They could now plan survival together.

After several efforts to climb onto the ice it became obvious that it could not support their weight at its edge, and that a new plan was required. Dad submerged to test the depth of the pond with the thought that if shallow enough he could get under Jean and push her up onto the ice in a prone position so her weight would be distributed more evenly. The depth proved to be about six or seven feet, with a relatively firm bottom. After a moment of planning he submerged. Grasping her skate blades over his head he launched her out onto the ice -- high but not dry!

Jean, according to plan, then turned about and reached out for Maurice. Fortunately, because she was wearing reachers (speed skates), she was able to dig the toes of her blades into the ice to gain purchase to help Maurice ease out of the opening and crawl toward thicker ice. At about 4:30 p.m. they were able to stand and begin the three kilometer skate back to the car, with a cold brisk wind against them.

Being assured that they were in fact OK, I continued to the ice and skated with some friends for an hour or so, then went to Sydney Street to check on their condition. They had called their doctor who had come to see them. He wished them a happy New Year and suggested warm tea, and more careful behaviour. They seemed fully recovered and dad was drinking a hot rum with lemon and honey.

The next day I visited again and found Mom in excellent spirits. When asked of Dad's whereabouts she advised he had gone back to the river to look for a glove he had lost. He found it and lived to skate for twenty-five more years, but after that experience they were much more careful. Thereafter Dad always carried a length of heavy cord and an ice pick in his pocket, just in case.

Dad passed away in 2006. Last year Mom celebrated her 100th birthday and still remembers that day well. She expects that someday they will skate together again.

This was written by Malcolm Lodge of Charlottetown and reprinted with permission from the good folks at RED. You can purchase copies of RED here.

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