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February 16, 2011


Gorgeously written as always, Beth. You see so much.

I wish I could follow you around for a day or two.

How entirely evocative! It's a mystery and a miracle to me how you draw together the present moment with the past in a way that makes the past as vivid and lively as the present, and don't stop there but turn outwards to new people and places also (the mother on her skates, the readers of your blog wherever they are in whatever climate. I found myself envying you your frequent skating. In southern PA, near the Mason-Dixon line in fact, the big pond only froze in exceptional winters. But on my uncle's smaller one, built in a hollow near the road downhill from his dairy barn, the neighbouring Amish mothers and children often came skating. Sometimes just sliding merrily around in their sturdy shoes, they didn't all own skates. Thank you for helping me make my peace with the long winter.

The new skates are much warmer! Since we had no snow until the end of January we skated on our neighbors small pond. Our neighbor has two hockey playing girls and they liked having a private rink. Once the snow came we abandoned skating for skiing. But there is a rink on the park in town.
I remember Montreal in the freezing winter days.

Wonderfully described piece - thanks. My memories of skating are rather more urban. In the 1970s I used to go with my daughter, when she was a child, to the large ice rink in Streatham, south east London. It was such a happy place. You went through the front doors and smelt the ice and a strange rubbery smell, heard the blasting pop music, and immediately felt exhilerated. There on the rink were people going round, and round, and round... Occasionally the rink was cleared for the experts, people who could actually go backwards and twirl and dance. Then hoi polloi surged back in and joyfully went round and round... It was all decorated in an odd 1950s to 1970s style, with chandeliers, and a changing room with purple walls and large slightly crumbling gilt mirrors. Work, rent, mortgages, shopping, were all forgotten as we swirled round. I was about 29 and I remember it took quite a lot of courage to stop clinging onto the side and for the first time go out into the middle with no prop! My daughter took to it more swiftly. Ice rinks aren't so decorative now, certainly not the one in Oxford, which is more utilitarian (though thank goodness it's being saved in spite of the budget cuts!) - gone are the chandeliers and dusty ornate gilt mirrors. Ice-skating is one of the best things in life (if I were still 29 I'd do it again!)

What they all said, Beth - a wonderfully evocative piece. I felt a bit worried for that baby though; I hope the swaddling was warm enough.
I never learned to skate, much to my regret. The one time I tried, at a resort in Austria, I instantly fell and broke my arm! Ach.

This brings back experiences in the frozen north. But it is so far north where you are. I guess the sun must strike right into your eyes in the daytime. And the shadows must be very long.

What happens when you put many small stones into one post? You get a small miracle like this one.

The first - and only - time I tried skating was a few winters back in Vienna, in a rink that had sprung up in one of the squares. There was music in the air and the festive atmosphere lured me into trying it out. It was difficult, but I managed, at the pace of a tortoise, to complete a couple of rounds, all the time watching little boys and girls effortlessly gliding and having fun. I must try again, someday.

I wrote to my cousin B. about this post; as children we played together almost as much as sisters (which neither of us had) to ask if it brought up any other memories for her. She still lives in the same area, in central new York, and she and her brother are continuing to run their family farm after their father's death in 2010.

She wrote back: "Hell yes!! I remember little double runner skates and learning how to skate at the backyard rink on Classic Street. But most of my skating memories are from the farm. I think I was probably 8 or 9 or so when we started going "over back" to check the ice on the pond every day after school. That was before we had snowmobiles - so it was a long trek. As soon as it was frozen, the after school trek was changed from checking to shoveling. When it was ready, Dad would take the cattle trailer over filled with straw and park it so there would be a place to get in out of the cold and sit to put on skates. He would also bring over plenty of stuff to burn. We didn't skate at night on school nights but on the week-ends, there were 20-30 people every night. We had "Capture the Flag" games and if we were lucky enough to get a thaw, the swamp/creek would flood and then we could skate all the way down to the Flat Iron. The grown ups didn't skate. They tended the fire and brought hot cocoa and homemade donuts and sat around the fire having as much fun as we did, I think."

I said: "My mother used to skate sometimes - until she fell one year and did something to her kneecap. Dad had skates but rarely went out on the ice except to shovel, but I seem to remember Grandpa skating - and being pretty good at it. I think when he was young he could do 'figures.'"

And she added: "Grandpa was a natural athlete. He was so good at so many things, wasn't he? I miss him!"

Our grandfather, born in 1900, died in 1990 and was active, physically strong, and quite sharp right to the end of his life.

Oh Beth, I haven't seen a rink like this since I was a kid and everyone had one in their back yard. What wonderful memories.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.