Ice Skating Dreams

I don’t know whether to blame it on getting old or on living in Texas, but I miss ice skating more than I miss winter.

I fantasize about gliding across smooth ice like my generation’s figure skating icon, Dorothy Hamill (whose haircut I admired as much as her skating), spinning and doing figure eights and tricks I could never, ever do in my real life.

Dorothy Hamill

When I first started skating I can’t say, but probably late elementary school, and the last time I remember being on skates was my late 30s, soon after we moved to Austin.

In the mid-1950s, northern Ohio winters were long and cold enough for a true skating season—probably about six weeks, from early January to mid-February, when the ponds, reservoirs and even rivers would freeze hard enough to hold a crowd jumping and scraping across their surfaces.

The first skating site I remember was a pond near a park on Pleasant Street, where Norwalk Creek flowed (yes, there is a “Pleasant Street,” and my first elementary school in the U.S. was on that street and, naturally enough, called Pleasant School). Across the street is a wooded area that, if you follow a trodden path, leads to a hidden pond, known as Lais’ Pond, which of course everyone called “Lacy’s Pond.” It was about a half mile from where we lived.

In the winter I was—amazingly—allowed to go out on school nights, maybe because I was a good student and the skating season was short. There was usually a big fire, and planks to sit on for changing out of shoes and into skates. I spent many hours skating on Lais Pond, sometimes even following the creek as far as ice would allow before it became too thin. The boys played “crack-the-whip”; once or twice I even got into a chain, but it can get fast and scary and I didn’t do it often. I’d go home at bedtime freezing and tired and happy.

In addition to Lacy’s, we had the Norwalk Reservoir which, in warm weather was a popular parking spot for teenagers. In winter it was a vast expanse of wonderful smooth ice. Keep in mind, outdoor ice often is not smooth, as it’s affected by wind and water motion, and there are no Zambonis within miles, so skating can be a bit jarring and bumpy. I fondly remember my church’s Westminster Fellowship youth group going on Sunday afternoon skating parties. Another location was the Huron River in Monroeville, a few miles west of Norwalk. The area above the dam was another great expanse where you could go as fast and free as your legs would allow without having to turn or stop. This freedom is what I miss most about skating, and it ruined me for rink skating later, with its obvious limited space and round-and-round pattern.

I think living somewhere with canals or a river where people skate as their winter transportation would be wonderful. You wouldn’t have to work out all winter.

From the time I left Norwalk at 18 until I returned to Ohio six years later I never skated. My parents moved while I was in college, and I never got to retrieve belongings left in the home I had live in for the previous six years. Among the lost items were my ice skates. That still makes me sad—partly because my parents had so little disregard for my attachment to my possessions that they would just get rid of anything I didn’t take away to school with me, including diaries and other stored childhood treasures, lost forever.

I dropped out of Bowling Green after a year and lived in Washington, D.C., until I met my first husband. We lived in Connecticut and California, then moved to Lakewood, outside Cleveland, after his active duty in the Naval reserves. Lakewood had a rink called Winterthur, where I skated. (My husband didn’t skate.) Five years (and two children) later, we moved to Northern Virginia. When the kids got big enough I took them to the Fairfax County rinks, but rink skating will never be as free and exciting as being out in the open air, in the woods, sailing across the ice, bumpy or not, Zamboni-smooth ice be damned.

After eight years in Virginia we moved to Austin. The first summer we were here our neighbors had a birthday party at the rink at Northcross Mall. That was the last time I was on ice skates, in my late 30s. Now, nearly 30 years later, I wonder how my ankles would hold up if I tried to get on those thin blades.

Ice rink at the National Gallery of Art

About four years ago I was in Crystal City, outside Washington, for a meeting, and one day hopped the subway for a walk on the national Mall. The National Gallery of Art had converted a garden to an outdoor ice rink, and as I watched I was tempted to pay the admission and rent a pair of skates. But then I thought: here I am, staying in a hotel across the river, nobody knows I’m here and if I were to fall and get hurt nobody would know what to do with me. So I went into the café next to the rink and had a glass of wine and watched as consolation. I’ve stayed in the Adam’s Mark in Dallas, adjacent to the Galleria rink, several times, and again just watched in envy.

I’ve periodically perused the web sites for Austin’s two public rinks, Chaparral and Northcross, for open skating times and lessons. Every time I do a yoga pose that includes standing on one foot, such as the tree pose, I try to hold it and think about making my ankles strong. A couple of years ago a co-worker and I made a deal that we would try the rooftop rink at Whole Foods during the holidays, since our office was within walking distance, but we never did. She is a year older than I, but she dances and skis, so I’ll bet her ankles are strong.

There are several temporary rinks in Austin during what we laughingly call “winter” here. I would like to get my daughters and my grandchildren to go with me. Then if I make a fool of myself I won’t mind my grandkids laughing at me, and my daughters can take me to the hospital if necessary.

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