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Frozen in Time

Ice skating memoir evokes childhood freedom, security.

This week I invited my memoir class to write about a favorite childhood memory of ice or snow. Most of the women wrote about their first pair of ice skates when nine or 10 years old. Despite the wobbles and tumbles, happy memories of family time emerged: of holding hands with Mom or a favorite relative, of hot cocoa in a Thermos, of at last skating unassisted – the heady rush of freedom!

At age five or six, I received my first skates, double runners with a red strap. We shuffled on ice within three feet of the bank of Clark Pond in Auburn, NH, across from my house. Mom or Dad hovered near as this pond never froze completely due to treacherous currents running through it. I fell many times, and even in voluminous snow pants complained that the ice was too hard! I decided that I did not care for ice skating, especially tangling in the weeds on shore.

My next skates, second hand tubular skates (think vintage hockey skates with no toe pick), arrived courtesy of Auntie Helen who found them at a swap meet. Dingy and scuffed almost to suede, they featured a cracked strap across the instep and did not in the least resemble the pure white boot skates of graceful Olympic stars like Tenley Albright, Carol Heiss, and Peggy Fleming.  (Perhaps I should mention that Donna Atwood, a figure skater, is my middle name namesake.)

Then around age 12, Christmas Day brought brand new shiny white leather skates lined in red and black checked flannel with a cube of black heel. Let the Olympic fantasy begin! Since I knew the pond to be dangerous and off limits, I searched for ice, sometimes in a marshy area where I would swerve among birch saplings and tussocks on ice as clear as a paperweight, bubbles and leaves embedded within it. Sometimes, I would make do with a large frozen puddle -- pathetic but true. When the Harris family flooded their garden and cranked up the woodstove in the toolshed, I finally hit stride and glided for satisfying distances. The town’s municipal rink, a sand lot flooded by the volunteer firemen, drew a boisterous hockey crowd. I stayed away.

My fondest memories of winter skating, however, emerge along with Dad ice fishing on Massabesic Lake on the Auburn side. He would pack his sticks with flags, spools of line, and a perforated bucket within a bucket for the little silver bait fish. I’d sit on the hard ice and tie the long laces of my new figure skates, fingers numb with cold. Dad had to help me up. I slipped on the red wool mittens knit from an unraveled sweater, then wobbling on my blades, I’d stab a toe pick into the ice and push off.

The blades rasped over the glinting ice, so much bumpier than it looked from the shore. Arctic wind hit my face like a million ice picks, stabbing my skull like an ice cream headache. Even my woolen balaclava with the jingle bell in the pompom offered little warmth in such a blast. Yet… the pain exhilarated me. I tingled in excitement and, crouching, braced for an ice heave like a frozen ocean wave –- up and over without falling!

For almost a mile, I skated without stopping, without seeing another soul on that desolate frozen wilderness.  On and on I pushed toward the small island of rocks and conifers. Just the wind, the ice, the sun, and me. Sometimes the ice spoke to me in groans. Sometimes it cracked like a pistol shot directly beneath my skates. Way, way down, maybe two feet below me, I saw the lightning-like fractures, white zigzags in silver ice. Gliding in the bliss of sun dazzle and utter freedom, time, space and cold ceased to exist. I was the wind. An Olympic star!

When blue shadows lengthened, I scanned the lake for Dad, now a tiny speck near the road.

I pivoted and toed off, relieved that the frigid wind now gusted behind me, pushing me! I spread my arms like kestrel wings and let the wind blow me to shore. Toes numb beyond all caring, I flew toward my father on chattering skates, laughing, totally embraced by the elements. Perhaps never again will I thrill to being so solitary, so alive, so free -- with the security of someone waiting to take me home. ###



·       Recall a vivid winter memory. Write for 10 minutes.

·       Describe a year in which you experienced no normal winter. How did that affect you?

·       If you grew up in an area that did not experience cold winters, how did you imagine them to be?

 Photo credits

Ice skates by Weston M on Unsplash.

Blue ice by Maxx* on Unsplash.

Lake skater by Oleg Bilyk on Unsplash

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