The other evening on our stroll, the dogs and I walked past an area of Como Lake that had been swept clear of snow. There were two people skating on the smooth rectangle under the moonlight -- an adult, and a small, snowsuit-clad toddler. The child pushed himself across the ice with jerky motions, and then fell the way little kids fall--all in a boneless heap, like a bag of sand.
He lay there while the adult skated in nonchalant circles nearby, and then he struggled to his feet again and lurched off. And fell again. I slowed the dogs so I could watch without looking like a stalker. The scene was familiar, as was the scritch-scritch-scritch sound of the blades on the ice. It reminded me of when I was a kid, when I used to skate.
It has been more than 10 years now since I have been on skates, though each winter I intend to go. But as the years go by, I think, What if I've forgotten how? What if I fall and break a bone? And, damn, it's cold out. And, I can't bring the dogs with me to the rink. And ....
But when I was a kid, I used to go skating all the time.
We used to tie our skate laces together, sling them over our shoulder, and walk two blocks up East Fourth Street to Longview Tennis Club. In those days, they flooded the tennis courts in the winter for skating, though by the time I was in high school they had quit doing that; it apparently wasn't good for the surface, and the tennis players complained.
The tennis clubhouse was a small, pretty, white-framed building that looked like a one-room schoolhouse. In the winter, it was our warming shack. Upstairs, they sold hot chocolate and candy, but we never had any money and just walked through the front door and clomped down the narrow wooden stairs to the lower level, where we changed into our skates.
There were lockers that we never used, and worn benches where we sat, and the wooden floor was ground almost to sawdust from the blades of thousands of skates.
The tight white boots--always hand-me-downs from one sister or another--never fit. They pinched my toes, and I could never pull the laces tight enough to keep my ankles straight. I'd wobble out onto the ice and spend most of my time shoving myself back and forth along the edge of the rink, trying to avoid the speedy boys who zipped through the crowd in black hockey skates, waving sticks.
I was not a strong skater. I had weak ankles, and I was not naturally athletic, and I never learned how to stop, or how to go backwards. When I needed to stop, I'd just aim straight for a snowbank. A hockey dad once told me I shouldn't do that; it would rust my blades. But I never trusted the little ridged tip of the skate blade that was allegedly my brake, and I never grew beyond the snowbank method. I think if I were to go skating today (fat chance; it's way too cold) I would stop that way again, or just stay on the ice until spring.
And the funny thing is, I do want to go skating. Today. Tomorrow. Before thaw.
A few years ago, Doug and I went to Montreal in February for the Winter High Lights Festival. It was the most spectacular festival I have ever attended, with dancing (in heavy snow), fire barrels where you could roast marshmallows and warm up your cocoa, heated tents where you could have a gourmet meal (in heavy snow), sledding, skating, music, Chinese dancers, fireworks. All in heavy snow.
Indoors, there was music and a fabulous French-Canadian circus (not Cirque de Soleil, but a better one, Cirque Eloize--more moving, less showy, just as amazing) and all kinds of gourmet meals and chocolate-tastings and wine-tastings and decadence.
Down at the harbor, hundreds of people were skating on the ice. And in Parc de la Fontaine, across from our hotel, there was music piped outside and lights entwined in the trees, and people skating in the middle of the day on the frozen creek.
After we came home, I couldn't get the festive crowds of skaters out of my mind. I finally bought myself a new pair of skates, but by then it was March, and the rinks had thawed and refrozen so many times that the ice was rough and bumpy.
"Next year," I said. And then the next year I said, "Next year."
And now it is January, and it is plenty cold, and there are three glassy rinks and a frozen lake, all within six blocks of my house. I want to go skating. But so far, I haven't.
So--what will I do? Will I skate? Or will I wait until next year? And what, exactly, am I waiting for?
A note on the pictures: The color pictures are from our trip to the Montreal festival. The black-and-white photo is of my sisters, Nancy and Kristin, skating at Longview circa 1960.