Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Alternate Worlds

Second Grade would be over soon. Summer vacation was fast approaching, and I'd be saying goodbye to Mrs. Lamson, relieved that my tenure with her was over. I'd be saying goodbye to my classmates Richie, Tommy, Joyce, Ann and Don and all the others until September rolled around. But would I really see them again, or would I be put into the "other" third grade class? There were two classes of every grade at school. You would kinda know the other kids, but not really. I knew their faces and their names, but not THEM. We weren't sharing the same teacher or the same learning experiences in the same room each and every day. We were alternate worlds in one building, strangers to our very own neighbors.
How was it decided? Who put me in with Paul LaPann and Patsy Mulin instead of with Billy Reim and Nancy Carl? Was I smarter than them or were my manners better? Why were some kids shuttled back and forth, like Sheron Wakley and Max Reihmann? It was weird out on the playground too. You tended to stick with the kids in your own class, you segregated yourselves without thinking. You might have a game of kickball or dodge ball against that "other" grade, and we teased and cajoled each other like we were enemy tribes from opposite ends of the world. When we played dodge ball against them, you threw a little harder, a little stronger so the hit would sting a little more.
I went to Sunday School with Billy Reim, and I liked him; I wished I had known him better. Sheron Wakley was such a happy person, and I didn't like her being in the "enemy camp".
There were some kids you didn't mind getting separated from. Billy Hill, the class bully was one. He was bigger and rougher than the rest of us, and he liked to push people around. Mark Lightcap was another one who seemed to take a particular delight in making others feel uncomfortable. Never get on the see-saw with him. He would jump off and make you come crashing down hard, shaking your spine and shattering your nerves.
I didn't want to be separated from the kids I had gotten to know these last few years; I wanted to be with them and have Third Grade with Mrs. Lee. We had all heard about Mrs. Lee. Mrs. Thelma Lee was a Woodbury Heights legend. She had a reputation that the other teachers must have envied. She was considered strict but fair, and a very pleasant lady. She inspired her students to do well, and they were eager to please her. Every kid wanted to be in the Third Grade with Mrs. Lee.
I would spend the summer hoping and praying that I wouldn't be condemned to that "other" grade, the bizarro Third Grade. I looked forward to getting back with Jimmy Matsuk, even Lora Carter, rather than try and survive in a world dominated by Billy Hill.
I'd be worried that summer.
I'd worry that the Russians would drop an H bomb on us, and I'd worry that I wouldn't be chosen to have Third Grade with Mrs. Lee.
Somehow that creature in my bedroom closet wasn't as scary as it used to be.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Gold and Blue

I was a proud member of the boys in gold and blue. Troop 222, Den 13, the red patches on my shoulder would declare. My den would meet at Mrs. Bronum’s house on the short end of Asam Avenue, a quick walk from school.
I couldn’t wait to be a Cub Scout. It sounded so exciting, and the dark blue uniform would satisfy that militaristic urge deep within me.
I had read Boy’s Life magazines at my cousin Charlie’s, and the tales of scout adventures fueled my imagination. Hiking and camping in the wilderness. Exploring the wilds of our national parks like Lewis and Clark, discovering new trails like Rogers Rangers in the French and Indian Wars. A chance to rise through the ranks to Boy Scout, and even beyond that to Explorer. I could learn to use BB guns and rescue people in distress, and I’d be a real life hero to the girls at school.
I was determined to earn my wolf, bear and lion badges. I figured I would have to endure grueling rituals like the Sun Dance to prove I was worthy to wear the emblems of these ferocious beasts, and I’d go on fifty mile marches with full packs through primeval forest, and climb the highest mountain range.
I stood with Tommy and Billy and Kurt and the others and swore my oath with two fingers in the air in anticipation of the adventures to follow.
The reality of it all was quite a letdown. Here we all were resplendent in our quasi-military garb, ready for excitement, but we were given manuals that told us how to earn our badges. We had to make crafts like we were still in Kindergarden. Stuff to memorize and good deeds to perform.
Mrs. Bronum was nice and she did the best she could, but she wasn’t leading us into the wilderness, this was like going to school. Where were the tents? Where were the campfires? Where was the adventure?
The best part was going to class in my uniform. On my walk to school I could believe I was a scout in the Union Army in the civil war, or a dismounted cavalryman marching to take his place in the battle line at Gettysburg. My yellow neckerchief made me feel like I was riding with John Wayne in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, like I was the kid in the army with Rin-Tin-Tin.
We didn’t get to go camping. We were supposed to go with the Boy Scouts once, but it was canceled for some reason or another, and never rescheduled.
My den did go to the local Nike missile base, where we got to see our nuclear arsenal standing ready to blow the Russians to kingdom come.
We also got a chance to go to Fort Mercer in National Park to see where our soldiers defended the Delaware River against the British, and how we drove them and their Hessian allies back to where they came from.
I got to ride with the Boy Scouts in one of our Fourth of July parades. We were supposed to march in formation, but there wasn’t enough of us to form one, so we rode in their truck and waved at everyone.
The Pinewood Derby was our most exciting event. You got a piece of pine that you carved into a race car. You painted it up and raced it in a competition with all the other dens in your troop. My Uncle Marshall, who was a mechanic at Ace Motors in Woodbury helped me. He carved out the shape and then I sanded it and applied the layers of sealant and paint. I decided it would be white. Plain and simple. No flash- just all car.
The race was held on wooden tracks that the cars would go down. It was all gravity and speed. In the first heat my car won handily, leaving the other guy far behind. My second race was close, but I won again. If I won my third race I’d be in the finals for the championship. I placed my white beauty on the track and waited. As the cars were released, mine quickly took the lead, and I felt a victory dance coming on. Just as it looked like I had it in the bag the wheels on my car flew off, sending my car off the track, eliminating me from the competition. It was like getting dunked by Joyce Hoefers all over again.
I earned all my badges and was heading toward Webelos, the last step before becoming a real Boy Scout. I wanted to wear the Khaki and the red neckerchief. I wanted to blaze trails and do good deeds. The lure of the Explorers and their air-force like uniforms beckoned, and I was eager to answer the call.
Before I could make Webelos, the scout program in Woodbury Heights folded. Not enough money or not enough interest, I don’t know, but it was all over.
I had raised my arm and sworn my oath. I’d be square and obey the laws of the pack. I had signed on for excitement and adventure, but I never got the chance to roar. It all ended with a whimper.
The scouts came back to Woodbury Heights in time, but by then I no longer had the interest, no longer felt the allure. It was over for me, it was my brother Carl's turn now.
But once upon a time I can say I was in the pack; a member of the gold and blue.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Things were different. The world was different. New things were happening in Woodbury Heights.
Over on Route 45 we could go and get hamburgers and French Fries and a milkshake. A new kind of restaurant that sold what was known as "fast food". It was called The Steer Inn, and it was becoming quite a popular place. Hamburgers for fifteen cents, twenty cents for a cheeseburger. We would drive over in the car as a special treat; even Whee-Zee could come along and get a burger of her own. It was fun to go there, and we liked it, but it wasn't the same as going to the Luncheonette and sitting in a booth and getting a submarine sandwich made fresh by somebody you knew.
A convenience store, a Seven-Eleven would open just down the street from school over on Elm. It had sodas and Tastykakes and candy and lots of other stuff; it would be open later than Trackie's and the Pioneer Store, but it would be more expensive and it would lack the friendly slam of a wooden screen door, and there wouldn't be any more penny candy. You couldn't buy pretzels and potato chips by the pound, and the owners weren't there to know your name.
Woodbury Heights is a small place, just a little over one square mile. The houses in our little community were unique, without that cookie-cutter look so prevalent in the "planned communities" that were beginning to surround us. Bungalows, ranchers, Cape Cods and grand Victorians standing side by side, adding character to the various neighborhoods. Every house had an identity all its own; extensions of the families who lived in them, and you knew several families in every part of town.
Developers would come to Woodbury Heights in 1960, and turn a few small sections of town into suburbia; crowding look-alike homes into two areas, creating neighborhoods lacking charm and personal space. They'd come in, tear out all the woods, and plant houses, and give it a name. South Woods East and South Woods West, and hardly a tree left standing in either one.
I'd ride my bike through there, but it wasn't as friendly and the cars were parked in the streets. The homes were bland and stacked up close together, and you didn't know anyone's name. It was a town within a town, a suburban ghetto crammed with people from Chester and Philadelphia and Camden. They were running away from the "coloreds" and the "spics". White flight it was called, and they picked Woodbury Heights as their haven, their Fort Apache to protect them from the dark hordes invading their cities.
I kept to my side of town, preferring to go to Trackie's for a soda or a Milky Way, where somebody knew my name and had a friendly word or two, and the smell of olive oil and vinegar on a Luncheonette sub just couldn't be beat by a hamburger.
I'd ride my bike in the real part of town, where the streets were clear and the houses were my friends, and the trees still stood proud and tall.
Some of my neighbors would be black. They were across the street in another town, and now I pretty much ignored them, but we never felt the urge to flee.
So this was progress in 1960.
I didn't care for it much.
What else was coming, I wonder?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Make It Last

Spring was here. Warmth at last, and Easter around the corner. Another ritual to endure. The annual trip to Robert Hall, the mens' and boys clothing store in Glassboro, to be put through the torture of being fitted for your new suit.
I and every other boy in Gloucester county would be dragged to Robert Hall's by their parents to purchase your one and only suit. You would wear these "special" clothes for very important moments in your life: funerals, class pictures, church and/or Sunday School, Easter and going out to dinner.
You had to dress up for these events, and you had to endure several hours of valuable TV time wasted, standing in a store while your mother decided what you would wear in the coming year. The endless trying on of jackets and pants that had to be altered, the legs so long they tripped you as you tried to walk.
"Try this one, no the other one, and stand up straight so we can see how it fits." And on and on and on, until finally a decision was made.
But you weren't free, no not yet, because your brother and then Dad would go through it all and you had to wait even longer, and Bugs Bunny was over and The Rifleman was already on, but maybe we'll get home in time to see Wyatt Earp- maybe.
Your suit had to last the whole year, so you had to be careful when you wore it. Just like your "good Shoes" and your school clothes. Money was tight, so take care of your things and make them last.
One pair of sneakers, maybe two pairs of shoes so take care of them.
A good solid pair of dungarees that had to be washed about a thousand times before they would get soft, and if you got a hole in your knee Mom would fix that with one of those iron-on patches that were as rough as sandpaper.
You got most of your toys at Christmas and maybe your birthday, so watch how you play with them and always put them away when you're done. I loved my toys; they were precious items and I treated them with care, even the junkyard items I got from Uncle Pat were given their proper respect.
Your bicycle would have to last several years, so keep the chain greased and the frame polished and don't run over any glass or nails, 'cause money don't grow on trees.
Comic books read over and over until you knew every word, studied every panel till they were burned in your mind.
We learned to value what we had, we didn't take things for granted because we never knew how long it would be before we could get something new.
Except clothes. Your new suit would come every spring, and school clothes would come every August. The two constants of life.
The rest would just have to last.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Chrome and Steel

The winter of 1960 was long and cold. The ground frozen stiff and covered with snow. Months passed as though years of their own, because I was waiting. Waiting since my birthday before Christmas. Waiting and wishing I could get outside and ride my new bike!
Having a birthday so close to Christmas meant that I’d usually get one big really neat present from Mom and Dad, and on December 20th, 1959 I'd get my second two-wheeler bike; my second West German Rixe.
This time it was red and sleek, unencumbered by mousetraps on the back, and no more balloon tires. This was a big kid’s bike, a 20 inch model, with the cool Rixe shield on the handle bar stem. Having a European bicycle always made me feel different from the other kids, a little more cool and somewhat exotic. Everybody else had Schwinns and Raleighs and Columbias, but I was the only boy around with an honest- to- goodness, West German, Teutonic-engineered, winged shield-emblazoned Rixe!
The first truly warm day I was out there ready to saddle up on my shiny new red beauty. I was a little awkward, and I couldn’t seem to mount it. My new bike seemed too big for me, I couldn’t get on, and when I did I couldn’t keep my balance long enough to start riding. My father’s temper in me came rising up, and I threw my new bike to the ground in disgust. "What a piece of junk! I’ll never be able to ride this thing, it’s too big for me. I’ll just keep riding my old one."
Dad reminded me that the green Rixe was now Carl’s bike, and if I wanted to ride, then I’d get up on the new red one and start pedaling.
After a lot of falling and fussing and fuming I finally got the hang of it. Riding this new bike meant more freedom. I could ride out in the street, and not just to Trackie’s store, but down to the Madden’s house and all the way to school! No more kid’s stuff for me. I was ready for the open road, the highway to adventure!
I was a fighter pilot knocking down Russian Migs over Korea. I was the Red Baron in the skies of World War One. In the evening I rode through Mrs. Price’s Sleepy Hollow as fast as any Ichabod Crane, and I led the Seventh Cavalry to the Little Big Horn.
Around the lake now and up past Freund’s Cliff to Chestnut Hill, the steepest point in Woodbury Heights. You’d try with all your might to ride up Chestnut Avenue, but your legs would give out halfway , and you’d have to walk it to the summit. The way down was your reward. Faster and faster you’d go, the wind hitting you full in the face and chest. Hitting you so hard you almost closed your eyes. If you gained enough speed you could clear the next rise in the street and sail on down to Boundary Road and out of town into Deptford.
Up to the high ground in town. Fairview and Clearview and Grandview. Riding past the Tyco HO train factory and down Glassboro Road. Across Glassboro Road to Academy and the long straightaway to see how really fast you could pedal or how long you could go without holding the handle bars.
Just to ride and be free. Magnificent steeds of chrome and steel powered by legs and imagination and chains black with grease. Your right pants leg rolled up so it wouldn’t get caught in the links, and the air rushing by as you sped ‘round a curve. The first real adventure when you’d ride all the way to the center of Woodbury to buy toy soldiers at the hobby shop or comic books at the newsstand. Braving the traffic on Route 45 as you crossed into Oak Valley and on up to Mantua, through Wenonah and back home.
My new red Rixe would be as trusty as any cowboy’s horse, as tough as any fighter plane, as swift as any motorcycle, and our rides together would be legendary.
Legendary in my mind. The legends in every kid's mind.
To bikes!
To freedom!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Fairy Tales

The world had become a dangerous place. The Russians were knocking at our door. Missiles were aimed and ready, atom bombs hung in the sky. One of our spy planes, a U-2 they called it, was shot down and its pilot was captured by the Russians. We watched as Francis Gary Powers was paraded on TV and put on trial in the Soviet Union.
I remember watching Fidel Castro, that guy with the beard who wore army clothes and smoked cigars was making friends with the communists and shaking his fist at us every chance he could.
Nikita Kruschev, the Russian leader with the bald head and ugly face was telling the world he was ready to go to war with us if we didn't leave Cuba alone. Nuclear war was coming, he threatened, and he looked like he meant it.
We didn't have to worry they told us. As long as we knew how to protect ourselves. They taught us in school. They showed us movies and had us practice all the right moves. Duck and cover, we were told. Hide under your desk and cover your head with your hands. That will protect you from the blast of an atom bomb. They took us to the basement of the school where we stood facing the concrete wall with our hands covering the back of our heads. We'd be safe there, the radiation wouldn't get us deep inside the building.
Our town, like every other town now had an air raid siren. It wasn't like the firehouse; it was a single steady blast, a low moan that was a different sound; the sound of death. Whenever a siren went off you stopped to make sure. A few seconds to listen and make sure that it wasn't the end of the world coming, just a fire or an ambulance call, just life going on.
I read about fall-out shelters you could build in your back yard and how to stock them with food and water so you could survive after all the bombs and missiles had exploded. Your own little bunker out behind the garage or added to the basement.
Our Fourth of July parade would have a Nike missile in it, from one of the batteries in Pitman or Swedesboro, to show us we had nothing to fear, that we were ready to strike back.
Once there was a national air-raid readiness day. The sirens were to go off and everyone was to stop what they were doing and to take cover wherever they were. I was walking home from school when the siren went off. I was only half way home, just getting to the lake, the only soul outside. I was going to run as fast as I could the rest of the way when I spotted a police car coming down the street. I didn't want to get in trouble, so I laid in the gutter of the street and covered my head with my hands just like I'd been taught and waited for the police car to pass by.I felt stupid lying there in the street like that, and I was sure that the policemen were probably having a great big laugh at my expense, what a story to tell when they got back to the station! I waited for a minute or two then got up and ran the rest of the way home.
I wasn't dumb. I had seen the newsreels of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Whole cities wiped out, and not a building left standing. I saw the people with their skin burned off and I'd read about radiation and how it killed slowly and silently for years and years and years. I saw the movies where the buildings blew apart and the air itself had caught on fire. We had all seen it and read about it and we all knew the truth. We all knew that if nuclear war came our part of the world would be gone in seconds, vaporized like the Japanese.
So we stood in the basement of our school. Me and Nancy and Richie and Linda and Joyce and Greg and Paul and all the others: facing the wall and covering our heads and playing the game.
We knew we were being lied to by the people we trusted and we were scared.
Scared to death.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The News

Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC. Walter Cronkite on CBS and John Daly on ABC. They were the living legends of broadcast journalism, and they came into our living rooms solemnly, and with purpose. They had much to talk about in 1960. The events of the day had a dangerous air about them; the world wasn't as safe and secure as we were told it was.
Nikita Kruschev was in the news. The crazy communist who banged his shoe at the U.N. and stirred up Fidel Castro in Cuba. The scary looking Russian with the bald head and the bump on his face was our latest boogey man. He was threatening to blow us all up if we didn't leave the Cubans alone.
An American spy plane was shot down, and its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was captured by the Russians. More threats, more duck and cover. Maybe this time, we thought. Maybe this time it's for real and all the bombs will go off, and the world will explode and we'll all be gone.
Something about black people not being served lunch at the counter in a Woolworth's in the south. People were having something called a sit-in. There were protests and a call to end the discrimination in our country. We didn't, we couldn't, understand. Wasn't this America? Wasn't this the land of the free, with liberty and justice for all? Troublemakers some would say. Why don't they all go back where they came from?
John F. Kennedy was running for president, and he was calling for an end to all the things that were wrong in the world and in our country. He was young and telling us that there was a brighter future in store. He spoke with confidence and enthusiasm in his effort to inspire us all.
France would set off its first atom bomb. The laser beam was invented. People were worried that computers would replace human beings, and satellites were "spies in the sky." American troops were going off to a place we never heard of, a part of the world we hardly knew.
Most of these events would pass us by. Let our parents worry about it. We had more important stuff to think about.
Barbie dolls and Fanner 50s. Comic books and bike rides. The May Fair and summer vacation. Birthdays and Christmas and Halloween.
We were slogging through Second Grade, looking for spring and warmer weather.
Let the world and all its problems just pass us by.
We wouldn't take notice.
Let the laser beams and the satellites, the computers and communists and the protesters all take care of themselves.
So what if we're sending soldiers to some little country somewhere?
Some place called Vietnam.
Why should it matter to us?

Monday, January 7, 2008


If you live in or near Philadelphia, there’s no escaping it. It’s a part of every New Year’s Day whether you love it or hate it. It’s background noise or the center of attention and lasts all day and well into the evening. Anyone living in the Delaware Valley knows that the Mummers will strut down Broad Street every January first, weather permitting.
It’s a proud Philadelphia tradition like Mardis Gras is to New Orleans. It’s unique-there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world, and some people might say thank goodness for that.
The Mummers have a long history in the City of Brotherly Love. It started out as groups of impromptu revelers roamed the streets of Philadelphia, ushering in the new year with noise and song, a louder and bawdier version of caroling. The party goers would dress themselves in costumes; a roving masquerade ball. Some of the revelers would fire off their muskets, “shooting in” the year to come, giving birth to the name Mummers and Shooters. The popularity of the celebration grew until finally in 1901 the first “official” Mummers Parade was sponsored by the city.
The Mummers Parade was powerful stuff in the 50s and 60s. My mother loved it, so it would be on the TV ALL DAY and into the night. I didn’t get it. Grown men dressing like women and clowns in sequins and feathers and gold lame and their faces painted in garish make-up, dancing down the street in the thousands.
This wasn’t for me. I wanted to watch cowboys or cartoons, anything that would break up the monotony and release us from the sound of off-key saxophones. That was another thing I didn’t understand:they were called string bands, but all I could hear were the saxophones and the glockenspiels and the accordions. You could see them playing banjos, but they were awfully hard to hear. And it went on and on and on. Comic brigades, fancy brigades and string bands in the wind and the rain and the freezing cold of winter. Scores of people standing and sitting out in the cold, lining the parade route, cheering on Ferko and Overbrook, Kensington and Fralinger and what seemed like a million others.
If it was a mild New Year’s day, we could get outside for a while and escape all the madness. Usually it was freezing cold, so my brother and I would hole up in our room with the door closed, playing with all the new toys we had gotten for Christmas. Many a comic book would be read and re-read. No matter what we did or where we went that day, the Mummers Parade would follow. If we went to see our neighbors, it would be on. If we went to visit our relatives, it would be on. After twelve, fourteen even sixteen hours of this, we'd be begging Mom to turn it off, please couldn't we watch some REAL TV? But no, we'd have to endure until the last, until the final string band had played. And then it would be over for another year,the last day of Christmas vacation spoiled by a bunch of crazy people over in Philly.
But it wouldn't let go, no it wouldn't be that easy.
On the way back to school I'd find myself humming "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" on and on and on and on......
Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Smell Of Bread

We had a bread man back then. Just like the milk man. Bread actually delivered to your house! You could get donuts too. It was convenient, but the best bread, real bread was made by hand in a bakery. We were lucky. We could go to my Uncle Bill's bakery in Camden.
Uncle Bill Gardner was the oldest child in my mother's family, 18 years her senior. He married Anna Worrel and they had five children; Billy, Joan, Jean, Bobby and Linda. A large family like Aunt Sis and Uncle Dan, but a lot less hectic than them. Their youngest, Linda, was five years older than me, so to them all I was just a little kid.
Uncle Bill was a man who liked history and nature. He especially loved to read books about New Jersey and to photograph its natural beauty. He was a Freemason and a man of many opinions, and he wasn't reluctant to share them. He had a place he liked to go to with his family out in the woods along the Mullica River. I remember going there and being under constant attack by flies and mosquitoes. It was a little too rugged for me, not as hospitable as the woods back home in the Heights. As Mom would say, "It's not my cup of tea."
Aunt Anna was always a kind and gentle person who had her hands full raising five children and helping to run the bakery. She's always been fond of dancing; especially the Mummer's Strut. Her father was a Mummer; one of those guys who parades down Broad Street in Philadelphia every New Year's Day dressed in grandiose costumes of sequins and feathers and mirrors; dancing to the music of the string bands. She still struts her stuff today, well into her nineties.
Uncle Bill's bakery was in the Cramer Hill section of Camden, around 26th and Wayne. Mom worked there on and off from 1944 until 1951.
Mom working at Uncle Bill's bakery
It was a place of glass counters and great underground brick ovens and the glorious and wonderful smells of baking. Donuts and crullers, cheese pies and cakes, and sticky buns all covered in that syrupy cinnamon goodness. But no one, and I mean no one could bake bread and rolls like Uncle Bill. The sweet smell of yeast and dough would permeate the shop, and you couldn't wait to taste a hot roll fresh from the oven. His bread and rolls would be a highlight at many a family picnic, and his sticky buns were outta this world and sinfully good. A trip to Uncle Bill's was a sugar high and a sensory overload, and we stood in awe of his mighty brick ovens.
Uncle Bill is gone now, and Aunt Anna is in the Masonic Home and the bakery is no more.
But the smell of his bread will linger forever.

Author's note: Aunt Anna passed away in 2009. Here's Aunt Anna and Uncle Bill as I remember them.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

In The Chill Of The Night

Cold. It was very cold that January in 1960. Lots of snow had fallen and remained on the ground. Winter would be long and deep that year, and that meant one thing; the lake would be frozen hard and solid. Time for ice skating.
The lake was the center of winter activity as well as summer fun in Woodbury Heights. A deep winter freeze meant thick ice on the lake, and the skaters would be there in droves. Families would dominate during the day on weekends, mostly the older kids and adults after dark.

One evening my Mom got it into her head that it was time for me to join in the fun and glide along with all the others.
It was frigid that night, and I was dressed to meet it. Long underwear, flannel shirt and heavy corduroy pants. Thick socks and a heavy padded coat and my hat and gloves. I must have had an extra twenty pounds of clothing between me and the evening's chill.
I was given a pair of training skates, these four bladed contraptions that you clamped onto your shoes. They were supposed to give you more stability as you learned how to make your way upon the glassy surface of the ice. I was dressed and I had my gear. Let's glide!
The lake was a picture perfect scene that night. Brisk night air, a bonfire and the skaters dancing in the glow of the flames on shore. I watched the line of people sliding effortlessly. Couples dancing in unison, and the most skilled of all doing figures and even skating backwards! This looked like fun.
I clamped on my blades on the steps of the pier and stood up to begin. My ankles responded by collapsing and I was flat on my back, the chill of the ice drilling through layers of heavy cotton and flannel.
Mom and my cousins helped me up and steadied me,and let me go. I put my foot out to slide but instead I slipped, face forward onto the ice. I would repeat this action over and over. No matter how hard I tried, I could not keep my balance, I could not master my blades. My body was sore and my clothes were wet, and I yearned for home and the safety of the living room couch. Who were these people who could sail with such grace on thin strips of steel across a field of ice? What was wrong with my ankles? If I hadn't been wearing my layers of winter clothes I surely would have broken something, that ice was hard! I was a sack of beans tossed among swans.I'll take sledding over this any day.
I couldn't wait to get home and drown my sorrow in a mug of hot chocolate.
Oh for spring.
And bicycles.
Aunt Irene,Cousin Linda and Mom getting ready to skate