GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — At 4 a.m. on a night that dipped to double digits below zero, Tim Buck was awake watering his backyard.
The dog had woken him up to go out, so he took the opportunity to add a new layer to the ice rink he thought he wouldn’t make.
His entire life, Buck has been skating. He said he was one of the first Grandville members of the Grand Rapids Amateur Hockey Association. When he bought a house and become a dad, he continued the tradition his father had for him: a backyard ice rink.
“Just a little patch about the size of, you know, 15-by-15,” Buck described his original backyard rink. “But it was a place for me to shoot and for our little guy to put skates on.”
As his family grew from one to three kids, so did the rink. Some winters, it stretched the length of the house and wrapped around the side, running under the swing set and all. For over 20 years, every winter, Buck built his rink.
“It just never gets old,” Buck smiled. “It keeps the kid in you.”
Skating may never get old, but the kids do. Eventually, they grew up, the weather wasn’t right and Buck got tired. The two-decade streak came to an end.
“I had a day where I threw my equipment away ’cause it was old and smelly and rotty. And I snapped a bunch of the sticks and I thought, ‘We’re done,'” Buck said. “We’re done.”
But all great neighborhoods thrive on a strong cornerstone. When Buck thought his rink was done, he didn’t realize it had become that building block for the area kids.
On a Tuesday snow day in the middle of a pandemic January, his young neighbor Jake came up to him as he was shoveling the driveway and asked if he would build the rink again. Jake had remembered it from years before and thought it was really fun.
“Snow days do wonderful things, right? Snow days are, you know, the kid in us comes out, baby, and it was perfect conditions. And I had this smiley face right here telling me to,” Buck said, pointing at Jake’s smiling face. “So what do you do? You build an ice rink, man.”
By Saturday of that week, the rebuild was complete and the rink was back open. Buck’s daughter even brought her friends over to celebrate her 26th birthday on the ice, like they had years before.
“The memories come flashing back, man, flashing back,” Buck said.
Soon, the neighborhood kids came flooding in. They would hop the fence. Some were learning to skate for the first time. Others decided to let go of other sports to pursue team hockey. They laughed and fell and picked each other up; they talked and learned and, most importantly to Buck, they got outside and learned to love winter.
“These kids can come together, as friends, as siblings, hop the fence, run into your neighbor’s yard, put the skates on, and go screw around,” Buck explained. “They’re all here figuring stuff out for themselves and doing what you’re supposed to be doing as a kid.”
They are creating a community and they don’t even realize it; forging bonds over frozen ice, making where they live a wonderful place to be.
“Look at that face right here,” Buck says pointing to a young girl’s wide smile. “I’ve just always done it and it’s always put a smile on my face. To be selfish when you’re out here at 2 o’clock in the morning, you got a hose in one hand and maybe a cold beer in the other one and it is so peaceful and quiet, and the moon is shining, and I get to look around my neighborhood and all these good thoughts come out. And, uh, it’s just magical, man. It’s magical.”
It’s a sort of Michigan secret: how to create a foundation of winter memories and traditions that will stand the test of the summer sun.
“It’s happening all over. It just doesn’t happen here. And, and that needs to be exposed. Good things are happening, people care,” Buck said. “I imagine a few of them may get married and you know whether they’re the girl or the boy, I imagine they’ll have an ice rink in their backyard someday. I can only imagine.”
Until then, it’s winter, water, lace up, repeat.