Saturday, December 26, 2009

winter sports

It was a lazy Christmas afternoon, everyone on the couch or in front of the fire, or reclined in the easy chairs, exhibiting as much ambition as snow days typically evoke. We'd played 'Catch Phrase'; we'd played 'Scrabble' and now were flipping through the channels trying to avoid 'a Christmas Story'. And there it was, a blast from Christmases past in our household, 'Cutting Edge'.
To be fair, 'Cutting Edge' was the girls' film. Ann knew each line of dialogue by heart; I thought the tape was surely worn to breaking point. But somewhere the film lives on and some satellite channel was broadcasting it to our living room.
I understood the movie's appeal completely. The figure skating competitions were priority viewing in Westboro 15 and more years ago despite disparaging remarks from the male contingent. When I was growing up, a Saturday afternoon program of figure skating on Wide World of Sports was the best one could hope for, better than ski jumping, better than football, better than car racing. I grew up with Peggy Fleming and listened to Dick Button like the girls grew up with Katarina Witt and Kristy Yamaguchi.
Winter sports meant ice skating to me. We never had really good spots to sled in our neighborhood; it was just too flat. And skiing was not a sport of the middle class like it is now. There were a few hills somewhere in the Forest Preserve system surrounding Chicago; I know we used to drive by one good sized hill with a toboggan run but that looked like more adventure than I was game for. Just as well, because my folks never showed any interest either.
But we did go skating as a family. The same flat ground that discouraged sledding provided hundreds of sloughs and low spots for skating. Sloughs by definition are so shallow that our north Illinois winters froze them hard enough for skating early in December. McGinnis Slough was the one nearest our town, but we never skated there; perhaps it was just too full of cattails and muskrat lodges. We didn't drive far though before we'd pull up on the side of the road and stride through the woods a short way to the pond. Our skates were all used, given to us by folks whose kids had outgrown them already. My dad had my uncle's hockey skates, I think, and my mom had figure skates from high school or college as well. No problems if the skates were too big; much better to wear the multiple layers of socks it took to survive the temperatures. I was taught early to pull the laces as tight as I could to eliminate the saggy ankles we saw on other little kids, so I don't know if my feet got cold from the air or a lack of circulation. I learned to skate backwards and cross over on turns; to stop and twirl in what I thought was surely a most graceful way.
One of the girls in my class took skating lessons. During one winter break, we walked to a flooded farm field just across from our elementary school to go skating. She was there practicing in her short skirt and leotard. How envious I was of her ability to jump and spin!!! Just like the lovely girls on the television, she was part of that glamorous world. I assume she never made it very far though; I looked for her for quite awhile on the skating circuit and assorted competitions but her name never appeared.
Do girls play ice hockey now? I don't know, but they were never part of the games on the ice when I was growing up. It was always a turf battle between the boys' part of the pond and everyone else's. I assume peace was kept in many households during Christmas break by the proximity of the skating pond where the kids could burn excess energy and make all the noise they wanted to.
Missouri always seemed like a different country when we came to visit in the winter. Rarely were the farm ponds frozen enough to allow skating, though we nearly always brought our skates. However, Jeff City had a skating rink in the park and we went there several times. When we moved there during high school, we lived in an apartment complex close enough that we could cut through the brush behind our building and hike to the park. Paying to skate was never as much fun as finding a pond and having it to yourself.
I haven't skated in several years, just a couple of times at Tantara while the kids were growing up. But I still enjoy the figure skating on television when it appears in the winter or during the Olympics. I envy the athleticism, the grace and the artistry when the choreography meshes with the music.
No doubt, that was part of the appeal of 'the Cutting Edge'. But mostly I think we were relating to the old, inner desire to create beauty. Even the most plebian skater has, if not the ability, the imagination to glide, to spin, to soar.....

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely LOVE ice skating, watching & doing. It is kind of like those dreams to be an olympic gymnast, flop. We should make an ice skating trip sometime with Harms & Schlueters when we are home over Christmas. (when the kids get a bit older)