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It is winter and I am discontented. That was all I had when I signed up for the Group Writing theme, and I was hoping really hard that when I sat down to write, something more would come to me. When I began, I intended to write about the present, but my fingers had another idea as my mind took me somewhere else. To Long Island in the 1970s, when it was winter, but I was not discontented.
My father used to build us an ice skating rink in our back yard every winter. He would lay out a huge sheet of thick plastic in a frame built of 2×4’s and fill it with water. We had a large backyard and he was in the roofing business, so the sheet of plastic was pretty big and so was the rink, at least it seemed so at the time. We would skate from just before Christmas through early March. Every night he would go out and spray the ice to make it smooth for the next day. My cousins would come over; friends and many of the neighborhood kids. We had a floodlight in back in the backyard, so we would skate all day and all night. We’d come in for my Mom’s hot chocolate and then it was back out again.
Mostly we played hockey or fooled around, but I had dreams of being a figure skater for a while. It didn’t last long. I took lessons and mastered the simple toe flip but my single axels were timid pathetic things. I was too afraid to let go, to soar. In truth, it wouldn’t have mattered if I had. I was not graceful nor lithe. My feet were large and too wide for women’s white skates, so I had to wear men’s black ones. I was always embarrassed by that. I put pom-poms on them, but it didn’t help.
One year my mother bought me some custom-made white skates. I’m sure I was no better, but in my mind, I was gliding across the ice like Peggy Fleming (Dorothy Hamill was still a few years away). By the next winter, my feet had grown. I knew I wasn’t going to get another pair of custom skates, so I squeezed my feet into my precious white ones. I’d skate until my feet were numb, which in truth didn’t take long, and then some. When I would take off my skates, my toes would be crushed together and a bright shade of purple. I’d massage the life back into them and endure painful burning for the next few hours. Didn’t stop me though. Until the next year, when I decided that I had suffered enough for fashion and went back to properly fitted black skates.
I turned more to hockey and that worked out given that I had three brothers. Our entire basement was filled with hockey equipment and we often had games going. I would wear my figure skates, but I could hold my own. My older brother, in particular, was an avid hockey player. He would often come in and bark at me “Get in goal,” and I would go out to tend goal while he fired shots at me. No helmets or goalie pads, of course, although we seemed to have an abundance of hockey gloves. He didn’t care that I was a girl either. Once when we were playing one-on-one, I went into the corner after the puck, and he slammed into me. We had no sideboards so I somersaulted out of the rink onto my back. I lay there stunned for a few seconds when I realized my arm was moving up and down. I had grabbed his stick and he was hitting my hand against the edge of the rink to make me let go. I didn’t though, and got back in the rink.
The winters started warming by the ’80s and skating time diminished. We got older too and involved in other things. So, eventually, my Dad stopped building the rink. We all missed it, and still talk about it to this day. Every now and then we meet someone in the neighborhood who remembers it too. Perhaps that is why I am discontented now, because Dad is gone, and my Mom joined him last year. We likely will sell the house. But such is the power of memory and prose, that for a few minutes I was back there again, gliding, twirling, falling, and freezing, with purple toes in the soft winter twilight. And all is well.Published in