Dream on Ice



 Dream on Ice


             I rummaged through the storage places in my basement as I looked for a brochure I had lent to my son when he was in High School. I came across an essay he wrote, I am guessing at age twelve:


 “Most of my life I have lived in America and have all my needs that I could possibly want satisfied. Recently, I got a dose of what life is like in other countries. My cousin arrived from Slovakia to stay with us and at first glance, he loved everything about America. I mean when my mum bought him hockey skates (his were from ice age) he slept with them. But then he asked; ‘why people in America never turn off the lights? What a waste…’””


            My nephew Palo’s skates were old, although not quite “Ice Age.” My brother, who was still in Czechoslovakia, at that time still under the Soviet thumb, certainly could not afford the fancy skates I bought for his son, whose dream was to play in NHL. He was not first, nor will he be last young boy dreaming about fame on ice. Before the fall of Soviet Union, the NHL was littered with eastern European hockey players. For a long time, it was their ticket out from behind the Iron Curtain and into freedom.

The skates and the hockey brought me back to my childhood, in the old Czechoslovakia where skating in the winter was kind of like breathing. We skated on the frozen streets when we were very young. We did not have to worry about traffic, nobody had cars, and the occasional horse drawn cart was more worried about us spooking the horse with the puck than the other way around.

            As we got older we graduated to skating on the nearby pond. Nearby was a relative description as it was two kilometers away through open fields where the wind threatened to blow us away. There was of course no transportation, and ice, snow and wind ruled out bicycles. There were several ponds in the area known as Kamenny Mlyn. (Stone Mill) It derived its name from a real mill that stopped being functional many years ago.

            The main lake where we swam in the summer was deep and seldom froze completely, but when it did, the ice was superior to all the other lakes. Rumor had it that there was a warm spring under the lake and we were forbidden to skate there, we were told time and time again to stick to the smaller, shallower lakes.

            But the lure of the ice on the big lake was irresistible to the boys. It was black and smooth and fast. Just as importantly there were no brunches sticking out of the ice, tripping the boys focused on the puck.

            I was an only girl in our neighborhood full of boys so my brothers had the unenviable task of taking me with them whenever they wanted to go to Kamenny Mlyn to play hockey. I dreamed of being a figure skater and hoped to peel off one of my brothers’ to skate with me, a’la the 1962 world champion brother and sister team of Eva and Pavel Roman. Of course, I had a better chance of going around the world with Gagarin in his Sputnik than I had to dance on ice with either of my brothers.

            Still, I persevered. One day I was practicing my pirouette while the boys were playing an intense hockey game against their neighborhood rival team when the puck just missed me, rocketed past at an alarming speed and stopped on some ice of dubious strength. The boys came over toward my side of the lake and huddled together discussing the best way to retrieve the puck.      

            It was something none of them were willing to sacrifice. At the beginning of the winter each boy received a supply of pucks for the winter from their parents, and if they lost them all, there would not be another puck available until the next winter. It was getting warmer and spring was not far off, so the puck supply was at its lowest. But the boys still hoped for a few more games and nobody wanted to lose the precious commodity.

            The side of the lake that was most exposed to the sun had already begun to melt. We all knew not to get too close to that side, but the puck did not, and stopped on the thin ice.

            “You are the smallest and the lightest,” my oldest brother Jan said to me. “You have to go get the puck.”

            “I will, if you sign up for figure skating with me,” I countered. I wasn’t going to risk my life for just a puck.

The boys huddled together again and after some gesticulations they let me know my answer by turning their backs on me and skating away. I watched them take off their scarfs and tie them together. Then my brother Pavel, holding the rope of scarfs with one hand, slowly approached the runaway puck. The rest of the boys watched in silence.

Pavel got within the reach of the puck, stretched his hand to grab it, when without warning the ice broke and he was waist deep in the water. The rest of the boys started to pull on the rope of scarfs, but the ice kept breaking.

“Lie down!” shouted one of the boys, not easily achieved since the heavy skates kept Pavel’s feet down. But he did hang on to the scarf and attempted to kick his feet to get himself into a horizontal position. I looked on, terrified.

Brother Jan lay down on the ice and inched closer to his brother while another boy held on to his skates and another held that boy’s waist. Slowly they pulled brother Pavel out of the water. Wet, frightened, but with great pride Pavel produced the puck from inside his jacket.

There was no further discussion. We all knew what we had to do; change into our shoes and jog all the way home. The warmer weather that had started to melt the lake and Pavel’s body heat from running prevented his clothing freezing on him.

The punishment for disobeying the order not to skate on big lake loomed large over my brothers’ heads, allowing me to extract the promise of figure skating lessons from both my brothers as a payment for my silence.

Unfortunately, the weather turned warm and there was no more ice time for any of us. Although the rescued puck would keep its value for the next winter season, the power of my blackmail threat did not. The following year, my brothers reneged on their promise to skate with me but it no longer mattered because during the summer I got involved in swimming, and skating with my brothers lost its allure.   

I looked down at my son’s essay and put it back in its folder. I forgot about the brochure I came to find but I made sure to turn off the lights.



Jarmila K. Sullivan


Jarmila K Sullivan was born Jarmila Kocvarova in Czechoslovakia. She became a refugee when the Soviet Union invaded her homeland in August 1968.  She lived in England and in Hong Kong before settling in New York City. Her stories have been published in BioStories, Potato Soup Journal, Nixes Mate Review and Tint Journal. Her story Encounter WithThe Future is currently nominated for the Pushcart Prize by BioStories. Potato Soup Journal selected her story Power Of The Violin for their second Anthology to be published this summer.



  1. Beautifully written, Jarmila takes us to Jarmila takes us to Slovakia during her childhood , when she skates on the smooth thin ice and suddenly her brother’s hockey game gets dangerous. She reminds us to value the freedom we have and not to take your family, friends and/ or your blessings for granted💕

  2. A family drama on thin ice - reminiscent of the similarly beautiful and touching scene in Little Women!

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