Whenever I take my two daughters to the ice rink and slip into my cracked white leather skates that are two sizes too big with mismatched laces, they always ask the same thing, "Hey, Mom, when are you going to get some new skates?"
I always answer, "These are my new skates."
They should have seen my old ones - an ancient pair of boys hockey skates that my mother bought at an auction. By the time my two older brothers had outgrown them and handed them down to me, the blades were rusty and the boots looked like syrup-soaked pancakes that had been overcooked.
Still, skates on ice had an edge over stockings on a gray linoleum floor that served as my arena during the non-winter months. The skates also made it slightly easier to sustain my dream of becoming the next Peggy Fleming.
Once the nearby pond froze, every weekday after school I'd dash across two empty fields and skate through the last remnants of daylight. The scrape of blades against the ice echoed among the leafless maples and sycamores that stood by, lofty and stoic - ideal companions for a shy girl whose days seemed filled with small hurts and awkwardness.
There, in the cold, silent woods, sailing over a sheet of ice, I discovered the comforts of being alone and the freedom to release a small part of the person I kept hidden from the real world. Fearlessly, I attempted toe loops and axels, flying camels and sit spins. I hummed songs of lost love and even let a few lyrics escape.
Only when the sky darkened and declared that it was time to return did I permit anything to intrude on my dream world.
On the weekends, I was forced to share the pond with my brothers and a few of the neighborhood kids, who congregated to play hockey. My only consolation at the loss of solitude was one of the fathers who kept a bonfire going to thaw our hands and feet, and his wife, who sometimes brought out marshmallows to toast.
One fall, my pond grew thick as a stew with leaves, twigs, and logs, and - almost overnight - it dried up. My mother sensed my need for hope that year, and under the Christmas tree there appeared a new pair of skates. They were two sizes too big, to allow for growth, but they were pure white, had metal teeth on the tips of the blades, and they had never been worn, not even by brothers.
But new skates couldn't bring back the pond. I practiced on the linoleum most of that year, all the while wondering what I would do for ice the next winter. Finally, my brothers helped me share my plight with a man we all deemed to have considerable wisdom - the school bus driver.
It turned out he was a farmer, and it so happened that, sprawling in one of his fields, was a large pond. When he extended an invitation for us to skate, we knew that all the good manners our mother had drilled into us over the years had finally paid off.
The pond was massive, windswept, and filled with hockey players. These were not little neighborhood kids with crude sticks and invisible goalies who played on the small pond. They were full-grown boys who actually kept score. Suddenly, I had to care how my hair jutted out from my hat and whether my gloves and socks matched.
The fact that the new pond was beyond walking distance pleased my oldest brother, who was always looking for an excuse to drive. When we got to the pond, he liked to linger in the car's warmth and listen to a few more songs on the radio before getting out. I always wanted to be first on the ice.
On one such afternoon, I hit the ice with extra vigor and didn't stop until I was about 30 yards out. Suddenly, there was a crack and a give in the ice beneath me. An instant later, one of my legs was swallowed by freezing water. Panic stole away my breath as I tried to grab hold of the ice that was splitting around me.
Out of nowhere, my brother's gloved hand appeared. "Here," he said calmly, "hang on." Somehow, we made it safely to the edge. Amid a quaking chill, I tried to find the words to tell my brother he was a hero, but all I managed was a plain, shivery "Thanks."
Even my dreamy ice world had its harsh realities. Eventually, I also had to accept the fact that I would never be Peggy Fleming. Yet, somehow in the process of tending my dream, skating had become more than a sport and an art. It had become more of a dance with nature - a partner that allowed me to be myself, without embarrassment, no matter how many times I fell.
Though I never made it big on the ice, my mother's investment in a pair of girl's figure skates was still a good one. They might be two sizes too big, but 30 years later, they're still "new."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society