Saturday, December 25, 2010

Winter Ice

Andrew skates onto the ice at a small rink in a shopping center in suburban Denver. Still the most graceful athlete of my three sons, he scoops up his daughters’ hands, Raina, fourteen, on his left, wearing her pipe cleaner jeans, her mother’s narrow brown wool sweater pulled down over her hips, her fisherman’s cap tilted at a jaunty angle, Lilly, eight, on his right, dressed in her brightly patterned leggings, her pink short sleeved shirt, her jacket unzipped and slipping from her shoulders, blond hair lifting on invisible currents. Two days shy of the winter solstice with afternoon on the wane, the sun shines more brightly here than where I live on the coast of Maine. Andrew and the girls glide past, Raina glancing back over her shoulder, “Hi Grammy.”

I was twelve when my mother bought me my first pair of figure skates, skates that weren’t hand me downs, skates that were finally white with those little ridges at the front of each blade, bought them a size larger than my shoe size, so that I’d have room to grow. I stuffed the toes with balled up newspaper, then skated onto the pond at Taylor Park, in Millburn, New Jersey, and years later, onto a pond in my suburban Boston neighborhood, wearing those same skates the toes packed, again with balled up paper, teaching Richard, Andrew and Douglas to skate, and standing here, at the railing of this rink in Colorado, the depths of memory swirling in time’s vortex, I am no longer that young mother, no longer the twelve year old, no longer the grandmother glowing in her granddaughters' light, I am a child watching from the edge of a pond in Morristown, New Jersey as my mother, head bent, wearing a knitted tam, sits on a bench, lacing her white figure skates, then taking my hand. My skates are double runners, and I can’t wait to graduate to skates that match my mother’s, but until the year I am twelve, I will wear brown skates that come to me from neighbors or cousins.

The skating ponds of my mother’s childhood, of my childhood, my sons’ childhoods have for these granddaughters given way to rinks, large indoor rinks, smaller rinks at ski areas, this rink surrounded by shops, walkways, trees and shrubs. Content, today, to be the observer, I don’t rent skates; I shop with my daughter in law, then later, walk with Raina, the two of us meandering in and out of shops, a bed and bath shop, a crafts shop that sells woolen hats knitted into monster faces, a flower shop where inside thick glass an etching of a tree glows.

As we leave the shop, lights come on, red stars, white Christmas balls suspended in the deepening dark. At the rink Lilly has found a friend, and as the two girls chase one another across the ice, I’m reminded of a chase long ago when my husband, my three sons, and I were vacationing in Davos, Switzerland, taking a day off from skiing to skate. Douglas was in the first grade, playing tag with a boy he met, neither speaking the other’s language, but understanding each other just the same as they followed, touched, laughed, as Lilly and her new friend laughed now, the blades of their skates splintering time, spraying memory like crystals into the cold December night.