Monday, December 6, 2010

Too Cold to Snow

Bare trees swayed and clicked and pointed gnarled icy limbs like long, bony fingers. The crisp north wind mingled with wisps of grayish white wood smoke that curled out of tall brick chimneys from the houses tucked nicely behind white picket fences. My skates – tied together and draped over my shoulder – thumped into my back and side, and my bright red snow pants swished with each step.

Tight fisted clouds refused to let go; the skies ached. My mother said that it was too cold to snow. Familiar shrieks and the sound of scraping blades on ice became more defined, inspiring me to quicken my pace as I neared the small white warming hut. The rink was near a rather large pond, but no one dared to take a chance at falling through the ice.

I pushed the randomly piled boots under the bench to make room for mine, the smallest in the heap. The tightly knit green mittens that my mother made came to a point; I pulled them off and clapped them together to free the clumps of snow. I set them next to the pot bellied woodstove in an attempt to warm them, knowing that they would become soggy and then freeze stiff within minutes of stepping away from the stove.

I untied the knot that held my skates together and loosened the laces. I straightened my socks – also green, pointed and knit by my mother – and pulled my skates on; my toes were already numb. I tugged on the laces as hard as I could; if you don’t, your ankles wobble, and turn inward and you don’t skate well at all. After wrapping the excess lace around the top part of the skate, I tied it in a double knot and started in tying the other.

My sister and her friends were already on the ice playing crack the whip. I knew that if I was allowed to play that I was to be at the end of the whip. Being small and at the tail end of the whip meant being airborne at the mercy of the bigger kids. That’s just the way it went. I learned to like the excitement and hope for the best.

We formed a line with the self proclaimed strongest boy in the lead. My sister grasped my hand. Her mitten – just like mine only blue and a little bigger – came to a point in the middle as well. I learned to be flexible and allow myself to be pulled; fighting the flow caused upset. I closed my eyes and whirled around, trusting the process of gliding upon the ice until the chain broke tossing me safely in the arms of the waiting snow bank.

I decided to skate on my own, working very hard on making a figure eight. I did this for years, thinking that somehow it mattered. I could skate backwards and even jump, twirl and land upright. I knew that my landing would be all the better for wearing the thick, fat snow pants, making a difference in my level of risk taking.

The bitter, gray day began to soften as the skies reluctantly released enough snow flurries to ease the tension. I stopped when the church bell started ringing and counted. Four. It was time to go home. My sister had left earlier with her friend and there were only a few people skating quietly, working on their figure eights.

Taking graceful strides with my long, striped stocking hat flying behind me, I skated towards the warming hut. I sat on the bench resting my blades against the feet of the woodstove, examining my bright red hands and wondering if I had the energy to untie my frozen laces. One by one, the others left. My toes tingled when I tried to wiggle them. I yanked the skates from my feet and stepped into my partially frozen boots. My cheeks were ablaze and a few previously frozen curls that fell from my hat began to melt. I closed my eyes, leaned against the wall and willed myself to be home. I stared through the slats at the dying embers and pulled on my soaking wet mittens one more time. The snow came down hard, quickly covering the ground and all footprints from earlier in the day. I stopped and threw my head back to catch the fat snowflakes on my tongue. It’s not as easy as you think.

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