I have cold feet.
I should add that I do not live in a home without heat. And that I have plenty of socks. I’m wearing two pairs right now. Along with slippers. Really, really ugly ones. Slippers that, had I seen them in the store, would not have even warranted a second glance from me. Slippers that, in a final, desperate act of trying to get her father to buy me a “nice” Christmas gift, my sweet daughter proclaimed to be the WORST PAIR OF SLIPPERS she had ever seen. I believe that her exact words to her father were, “Mom will NEVER wear those! GROSS!”
I am wearing them right now. They are warm and fuzzy and have leopard spots with shocking pink fleece on the inside. They come all the way up to the top of my calves. They are a testament to what is possible given some imagination and enough polyester in the world of high fashion. They stand as proof that sometimes, old husbands know more about their wives than their young fashion forward daughters think they do.
Because of my perpetually cold feet, I shy away from most wintertime outside activities. I watched part of the televised broadcast of the high school hockey games played on Lake Pokegama last Saturday. The temperatures plummeted throughout the day and at one point, the broadcasters reported that the wind was blowing at 35 mph during the second game. At various times, whiteout conditions on the lake made it hard for the players to see the puck. Even so, the games went on. No complaining. No postponing them. Kids up here are used to the cold, after all. And I am pretty sure that at least for the players from the northern teams, skating on a lake is no big deal even in twenty below wind chills. Watching this confirmed what I have always known about myself. I would have made a terrible Hockey Mom.
I must have been a lot tougher when I was a kid. I remember the skating rinks in a town too small for an actual high school hockey program. My friends and I spent many hours there every winter. Each evening after dinner, as we walked toward the city park with ice skates slung over our shoulders, we could see the floodlights in the distance and hear the soft clack of sticks and thump of frozen pucks hitting the wooden surround of the hockey rink. Boys of all ages gathered there, learning the game from men in the community who donated time, talent and equipment during those years. Proof that while composite hockey sticks, fancy pads, and indoor rinks may enhance hockey programs, they do not make hockey players. Passion does.
There was no fancy, heated ice arena with concessions stands. Instead, a small, cramped cinder block building with wooden benches served as the warming house. When we couldn’t take the cold any longer, we’d wobble inside for a brief respite from the crystalline air that burned our nostrils and frosted our eyelashes nearly closed. The memory scent of wet wool mittens, sweat, wood smoke, and adolescence merge and define for me that place and time during the winters of my youth.
We girls did not play hockey and as such, were relegated to the smaller, oval rink where we huddled together visiting and skating while the younger kids played games of Crack the Whip and Tag. The rinks provided a gathering place for teenagers just a few blocks away from the watchful eyes of adults. It was our main source of entertainment and possessed just the right amount of danger and romance for us before we were old enough to drive to places more dangerously romantic. Like Grand Rapids, for example.
If I close my eyes, I still remember one skater perfectly. I see her skating alone, spinning in perfect circles…a dark haired, graceful girl on an oval of dark ice banked by snow that sparkles with diamond dust. She leaps and skates on one foot, the other leg held parallel to the ice, arms outstretched…weaving and aloof, deep in thought. She has the posture of a dancer or gifted athlete and is silent and sure. The rest of us watch her, enthralled by her gift. We all know how to skate, but she is different. She is an Ice Skater. We were girls who’d grown up learning to love the cold by leaning into it. Did her gift allow her to hear a song that none of the rest of us could hear?
I pull my chair closer to the fire and think about the gifts we are given throughout our lives. The ones we don’t go looking for. Like slippers. And memories. I think of a girl I knew once who skated to her own melody on silver blades. The woman she is today. We are still friends. The fact that this is true is just one more gift that keeps me warm.