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A pre-Sigi story

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
It's been in the hot 90s around here in this Holiday week and I thought this story might cool you off a bit .


When I was eleven I’ve had my Korchulas for three winters already and was quite good in using them. Once the ice on the lake near Sigi’s house got to eight inches thick, the icemen came and cut large chunks for the ice bunkers where it stayed cold for the summer. The water then froze to a smooth, dark green ice without a ripple on it.

Having that freshly frozen ice the size of a football field brought us out to have Korchula races or just to fool around on them. I have no idea what the word Korchula means, it may be of Slavic origin, but I’ll describe what they are.

Imagine a 2x4 piece of wood about a foot long having two runners made of coat hanger wire about a half inch in from the sides with a half inch square piece of wood nailed crosswise to the top at a place where the heel of the boot could hook over. About where the ball of the foot would be, a shoe lace was nailed crosswise and tied over the boot and another, longer shoe lace was nailed to the back of the Korchula and tied around the ankle.

For propulsion we had a pole made from broomsticks or shovel handles or even ax handles with a large sharp nail on the bottom and by pushing between the legs we could really slide fast.

I remember going into servitude for a half hour at the local blacksmith, pumping his bellows, and in turn he would allow me to heat my five inch nail and burn it into my shovel handle made of very hard locust wood. After repeated heating the nail went in about two inches, a good whack against the anvil seated it and the blacksmith would kindly use a chisel and hammer to cut the head off at a steep angle. It was a great pole.

We were a clique of seven and often had races, some straight across the ice, but at other times we would make pylons from some hats or jackets and race around them, not easily done when you consider that the Korchulas had no edge control and would slide sideways or in any direction as fast as they slide forward and only could be controlled by judicious use of the pole for braking and steering and acceleration.

Then HE showed up. He was visiting an aunt in a village at the other end of the lake and he was a child of the tender age of ten and we men of eleven sneered at him and especially at his accent, almost like a foreign language. Since Bavarians consider anyone living outside of Bavaria a Prussian that was the name we gave him.

We would have ignored him except for what he was doing. He had cut a hockey stick from a branch, a foot-long thicker part with a thinner, longer branch as a handle and he was hitting chunks of ice left from the cutting and those chunks went flying far. We had never seen or heard of such a thing! He explained it was called hockey and that men on ice skates played it with a puck.

I knew what ice skates were since I had seen them at two of my friends’ houses hanging on one of the many pegs in the hallway and because they were the instruments that had caused a long lasting feud between my friends’ fathers. It seems that those skates, which were held to a shoe by cranking two clamps, one at the heel and one at the side of the shoe, with a key. One man had lost his key and borrowed the key from the other guy and then lost that one too and so there were two useless pair of skates in town.

The Prussian said hockey was played like soccer, two goals, to goalies and when the goalie couldn’t stop the puck it was a goal and whoever had the most goals was the winner. This is something we could understand since every German infant is born with the full understanding of the soccer rules.

So off we went into the woods to cut hockey sticks. In Sigi’s parents’ shed there were cleavers used to make “reisig”, six inch thick by one foot long bundles of pine branches used to start fires every day in the many stoves in our houses which were without central heating in those days. We commandeered those cleavers long enough to cut some good hockey sticks and also to square off the business ends of the sticks after we found out it was easier to hit a puck with a squared stick rather than with a round bottomed one.

So two goals were made from articles of clothing, two goalies were appointed and a two men team on either side. That left Guido, a kid our age but twice our size. He was slow but full of purpose. We appointed him the defender.

The Prussian was our puck-boy, he piled appropriate size stones from the shore onto his spread out jacket and pulling a sleeve, slid them to the playing field. We needed lots of pucks since no one was willing to go retrieve pucks that had missed their mark. Korchulas were not made for this.

So we played hockey like this: with the hockey stick clamped under an armpit we poled furiously to the puck, stopped, dropped the pole, took the hockey stick from the armpit, lined up the shot with one eye, keeping the other eye peeled for Guido who was baring down on anyone who was about to hit the puck. Guido was an equal opportunity defender. It didn’t matter which team one was on, Guido’s sole purpose was to prevent the player from hitting that puck by ramming him and since he dispensed with the hockey stick he was much more mobile using just his pole.

If the player didn’t have time to pick up his pole before being knocked thirty feet away he could hardly get back. Standing on Korchulas was like standing on two dinner plates, no traction at all. He was at the mercy of someone sliding his pole to him.

We had a suspicion that this was not hockey as it was played in the professional league and the decision was made to combine the hockey stick and the pole by putting the nail into the top of the handle, this way we could pole to the puck, reverse the stick to strike it and with a flip have our pole at the ready. There was just one problem. The nails would break out of the green wood when hard pressure was put on it. Just when we had a solution, failure.

So the Prussian came to the rescue. The aunt he was visiting had a fine dinning room set from Italy, the only allied country then, and she kept it covered with a dust cover and only took the cover off to show it to visitors now and then. No one ever sat on those chairs, they stayed tucked in under the table. Those chairs had wonderful thin round legs with golden ferules on the bottom, at least the back legs had, the golden ferules from the front legs ended up on the handles of our hockey sticks, holding the nails securely.

That was the last wonderful season of Korchula hockey. The last time I saw the Korchulas they were hanging on a peg next to the useless ice skates. The following season I learned to ski and I discovered girls, they were growing bumps on their chest, which for some reason excited me greatly.

When my only grandson, Max, who is two and a half years old now and whom we will get on skis next season, turns seven or eight, he will find among all the electronic games and toys under the Christmas tree a pair of fine Korchulas and a stick with a golden ferule and a sharp nail, and naturally, I will have to make a pair for myself in order to teach him how to use them. We may even have a race, which I surmise he will win.

post #2 of 16
Thanks Ott.

I needed this cool story. Lower NY is in a extreme heat warning...heat index over 100, and I am teaching summer school with no air conditioning.
post #3 of 16
That was lovely, cool, and fairly begs for a sequel (did Auntie discover the missing legs? What then?).

Thanks, Ott.
post #4 of 16
Thread Starter 
(did Auntie discover the missing legs? What then?).

nolo, they were just the ferules, not the legs and when you're eleven you don't worry about such things [img]smile.gif[/img] . The kid went home I presume and we didn't even know his real name, he was the Prussian to us. It's just a little slice of my life.

post #5 of 16
Great story! What year was this? What was happening in Europe at the time?
post #6 of 16
Great story! I especially like the vision of Guido the Bavarian slowly bearing down like a Mack truck. Classic.
post #7 of 16
Thread Starter 
Oboe, that was January 1944.

Chronic, Guido is not really a German name, it is Italian. Guido's family is south Tyrolian which a few generations ago was given to Italy but his family came to Germany when it didn't look like the Tirol would revert back to Austria.

post #8 of 16
M@tteo, that is fascinating! And I thought I knew something about WW II!. Please e-mail me, I'd like to explore these subjects further. bgreene@law66.com

[ July 04, 2002, 06:08 AM: Message edited by: oboe ]
post #9 of 16
post #10 of 16
Ott, how was your trip to the snowless Cortina?
post #11 of 16
Thread Starter 
Matteo, after all your help for a trip to the Dolomitis we ended up not going there after Ann heard it was going to be dead there because of the season in transition.

So we drove and stayed a night in Montecatini Terme, another in Sienna where I had to park my car outside the wall and we visited San Gimignano where we had a delightful lunch on the roof of the castle with a view of the Toscan country side. Ann bought some wine there.

We boarded the cruise ship in Venice, visited Bari in Italy, in Greece it was Katakolon and the original Olympic sites, Meteora with the monasteries on top of steep rocks, Athens, Corfu island and Dubrovnik in Croatia, then two days and nights in Venice, fabulous.

We'll reserve Cortina for a Winter visit. And thanks for your help, Mateo. But nothing over here prepares you for traffic on the Auto Strada or for city driving in Italy for that matter :

Your explanation of Big Guido's past seems plausible.

post #12 of 16
Oboe and Ott, if you're interested:
In 1944 Italy was "officially" no longer
a German allied.
Italy as a State surrended on Sept 8 1943.
What happened next was : civil war.
Northern Italy was taken over by German forces
(already stationed thru the whole peninsula following the previous two years of desert war
and the subsequent opening of the new front with
the Allied invasion of Sicily)
The King and the governement (what was left) fled from Rome and put themselves under the protection
of the American/British forces.
They left our Army/Navy/Air Force without clear orderd as for what to do.
It was left to their personal concsience what choice to take.
Keep faithful to the oath taken to the Nation or
keep faithful to the "old" allied.
Those who choose the former, headed south (those lucky to escape the Germans, otherwise they were given two choices: surrended and go to a Kz or fight and be exterminated to the last man, like it happened at Cefalonia)
Those who choose the latter headed North, were regarded with disdain and disrespect by their German allied, but fought (maybe with a mistaken sense of honour, but I do understand them) till April 25th 1945.
As for what happened to South Tyrol and hs people, its a tragedy within the tragedy:
after Mussolini took power (total power, a dictatorship, because he was democratically elected in 1922) in 1925-26, those South Tyrolean of Austrian ethnic origin were given two choice: accept total italianization (italianize
their names and family names, forget the German language and learn, and speak, only the Italian
language)or migrate (and abandon their land)
to Austria or Germany. This, I think, happened to Guido's family, or maybe, if his family was an ethnic Italian family, they choose to remain Austrian after Nov. 4th 1918, when WWI ended in Italy and the Austrian Empire collapsed (do you remember Marc Girardelli? Well, his great grandfather choose exactely that, to remain an Austrian citizen after the Empire collapsed, despite being an ethnic Italian); BTW, Ott, Guido is a widely used name in Germany, now, think of Guido Westewrelle...
After Sept. 1943, South Tyrol was declared by Hitler German territory, like Austria, the Carpatian and all other territory that he and his accolytes managed to swallow before (and after) sept 1939, where ethnic German people were living.
I could write more about it, but I'd better stop here.

Happy July 4th to ya all!

edit reason, I corrected Westerelle in Westerwelle

[ July 04, 2002, 07:32 AM: Message edited by: M@tteo ]
post #13 of 16
Nice trip Ott!
At times, even a consummate italian driver like myself is apalled by the ruthlessness of my fellow

If you ever come to Cortina (or Swizerland, or Austria, for that matter) to ski, let me know, maybe we'll meet!
post #14 of 16
thanks, Ott.
post #15 of 16
Another awesome, priceless story, Ott--thank you!
post #16 of 16

Bump for Throwback Thursday. 

Who doesn't love a Sigi Story...


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