When I turned on the TV on a few Sundays ago, figure skating happened to pop up. I was mesmerized by the incredible beauty, freedom, grace and pure joy of the performance. It was Gracie Gold’s free-skate using music from Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.” When my husband came into the room I played it back for him. It was the most beautiful–even perfect–figure skating performance I can remember ever seeing.*
More than anything else I could do when I was young, the thing I miss most is ice skating. In Northern Ohio in the late 1950s and early ’60s we had maybe six weeks of good skating weather, after Christmas into February. (I doubt if, with climate change, there is anything like that now.) I had my own figure skates and there was a nearby pond, called Lais’ Pond, which everyone called “Lacy’s Pond.” My parents let me skate on school nights (I was a good student and the season was short), and someone had always built a fire; boys played crack-the-whip and we girls practiced our figure-eights.
My church fellowship group had skating parties on the town reservoir or the smooth ice above the dam on the Huron River, in nearby Monroeville. I loved flying across the vast spaces of the reservoir. Natural ice, in case you’ve never skated on it, is quite bumpy and rippled from wind and water movement. There are no Zambonis on natural ice!
After I had children we skated at rinks in the Cleveland area and, after we moved to suburban Washington, D.C., in Fairfax County rinks. Indoor rinks with smooth ice were nice, but skating in an oval with too many other people could not match gliding across the dammed river or the reservoir.
The last time I was on ice skates was in 1982, when a neighbor had a birthday party at Northcross Mall, in Austin. I was so wobbly even then I realized my skating days were probably over.
In 2007, I was in Arlington, Virginia, on business. I had a free afternoon and got on the Metro to go wander around the National Mall for a little while. (Having lived in both D.C. and Virginia, I knew my way around well enough to take off by myself.) The National Gallery sculpture garden had a rink set up, with skates for rent. Hmm, I thought. “Should I give it a try?” Then: “I left the hotel without telling anyone where I was going. If I were to fall, hit my head and knock myself out, they would have no idea who I was or how I got there other than emergency info on my phone. They certainly wouldn’t know I was staying at a hotel in Crystal City.”
There was a sweet little café overlooking the rink, so I had a glass of wine and watched the skaters instead.
I still dream of flying across the ice on two thin blades. I never had aspirations for competition, no triple axels or double Salchow or death spirals for me. Just the freedom of pumping your legs and gliding across ice at top speed.
What do you wish to do that you could do when you were young, and are no longer able?
*After watching Gracie Gold on YouTube, I learned that the Firebird performance was in 2016, and she subsequently suffered from depression and an eating disorder, having to climb her way back into skating, which makes her even more inspiring than that young Firebird.