A Dragonfly in Amber
As much as I am looking forward to ski season, which begins next week, it does signal the end of hockey season.
Hockey is pretty much entirely an outdoor activity for me and, by the time I get back, the ice will be gone. The rink will again be a parking lot for golfers.
This is somewhere between wistful and sad. I first skated seven decades ago when I was about three or four. I would have to be blind not to realize that my hockey life is well into its third period.
The game has been a significant contributor to family lore. Perhaps my first exposure to pure partisanship was that hockey was ever and always good, while it’s winter rival, basketball, was the armpit sport.
Until recently, I didn’t realize how much hockey is freeze framed for me. It is like a dragonfly in amber and the dragonfly is an image of a preppy, WASPy game, played outdoors and often on ponds.
The other day, a player on the opposing team expressed her excitement at playing outdoors for the first time in her life. I almost never played indoors until college. (Yes, careful observers, the pronoun was “her.” In that game I was the only him.)
The revelation that my impression of hockey was not entirely current came in a conversation with a much younger friend, who could not believe that a person like me would have played a game like hockey, let alone cared about it. My friend’s impression of the game bore no resemblance to my dragonfly, which does not include a hockey parent shooting someone at a 10-and-under game. That came much later. Fortunately.
From time to time, I will post a hockey story (especially about how the game once looked), but here is how it began for me.
In addition to the requisite snowsuit, hat and mittens, my three-year-old experience included black figure skates with the toe picks ground off. The point of grinding off the toe pics was to avoid tripping on them. These skates would never be used for spins or jumps so, for me, the pics served no useful purpose.
Even at that age, the look set me apart from the boys who wore hockey skates, but there was a reason.
First, a figure skate blade is slightly wider than the blade of a hockey skate, making it easier for wobbly legs to balance.
Second, figure skates are more maneuverable than hockey skates though there is a trade-off in speed, but that is mostly irrelevant to a toddler.
My father had an interesting approach to teaching skating. He thought there were two problems: narrow and slippery.
Skate blades are narrower than a child’s foot so it would take some learning to get used to them.
The ice is notably more slippery than floor or grass so that too would require a certain mastery.
Why not separate the two skills?
Let the child walk around on the living room rug in his skates and he will master the narrow. Once that is behind him, it is time to introduce the slippery.
My mother was an interior designer who tended to hold rugs in high regard. Much convincing was required that the weight of a three-year-old would do little damage. The vacuum cleaner removed the marks of the skate blades much as a Zamboni does on a rink.
Around Thanksgiving, before any ponds were frozen, I walked around the house in my skates. By January, when there was ice on the local ponds, I was thought to be ready to add gliding on the slippery surface to the repertoire.
I have no idea if this theory worked and I have certainly never seen anyone else do it (even today), but it sounds reasonable.
The gliding would have begun in about 1950 at a nearby pond to which I was driven, then carried like a football in full snowsuit, mittens, hat and black figure skates. At the edge of the pond, I was given a shove.
This would be a fine time for a description of a tiny human flying around on the ice with his newfound skills, but I have no such recollection.
Clearer in my mind is having grandchildren who have already advanced beyond that level, and I will be skiing with them in about a week.