Ice skating is part of my New England cultural heritage, which is an abstract way of saying that I learned early in life that a frozen pond is a good place to play hockey and to meet girls and, on days when you are very lucky, to do both.
Her approach was cool and direct. "Skate with me," she said, holding out a mittened hand.
I was fifteen and she was one of five girls my friends and I let into our Sunday afternoon pond hockey game. Our approach had been neither cool nor direct but calculated to strike a macho balance between cavalier and condescending. "Hey, you can use those extra sticks if you want to play," is what I think one of us said.
We played until it got too dark to see the puck. I was sitting on my goalie pads preparing to untie my skates when her hand came toward me. I took it and we skated to the middle of the pond. The bits of ice clinging to her white mitten melted in my bare hand, which was warm and steaming from having been in my goalie glove.
Maybe because I am a poor dancer but an adequate skater, ice is a social medium for me the way the hardwood of a dance floor is for others. As late as my senior year in college there was a girl I'd skate with on the pond in the Boston Public Garden in the late afternoon, the two of us gliding around almost in the shadow of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the horns of rush hour sounding around us.
In the winter before Barbara and I got married we used to skate together at the Boston College rink near her Brighton apartment. A few years later, when Barb and I bought a house with an uncommonly flat backyard, I put in our homemade skating rink. We are a winter peopleor at least a winter family. Darkness and cold enliven us.
In the years we've had our rink it has become a kind of social pacemaker determining the pulse of our household in winter. It was often a mecca for our teenage children's raucous hockey games and skating parties, a peaceful place for my solitary early morning skates, a small self-contained world of laughter and hockey and hot chocolate. And although the day is long gone when Barbara and I could win a pickup hockey game against the neighborhood kids, she and I still play together sometimes in the evenings, skating under the floodlights, passing the puck and giving upraised stick salutes at goals scored into an empty net.
It was after one of those early evening skates during a school vacation -- while then-seventeen-year-old Brian and fifteen-year-old Tracey were out for pizza with a group of their friends -- that Barbara and I came in from the rink, pulled the cork from a well-age cabernet sauvignon (winter isn't all hot chocolate), put on an album and sat down to a candlelight dinner.
How I wish I could tell you we were not listening to Johnny Mathis when they sprang upon us. Anyone but Mathis.
But it was too late.
Brian and five friends (two boys, three girls) fairly tumbled through the front door, while Tracey and three friends (one girl, two boys) came in the back. As soon as they heard Mathis they drilled us with a round of good-natured abuse.
"Head banging music," said one of Brian's friends.
"Cutting edge," said another.
"Rock the house," said Brian, pretending to smash an imaginary guitar over an imaginary amplifier.
They'd come back early to play hockey. Barbara and I, quickly caught up in the spirit of another impromptu hockey party, blew out the candles, snapped on the rink lights and headed to the cellar to bring up the extra skates we keep for kids who don't have or don't bring their own. Upstairs, Mathis gave way to hard rock pouring out of a boom box the size of a goalie pad.
With all ten kids equipped and on the ice, Barbara and I cleaned up the kitchen and went to bed. We did not go to sleep, because our bedroom is near the den, which is near the back porch, which is where the driving guitars of U-2 were rocking the night.
Barbara asked me to close the den door so we could get some sleep.
I got up to do that and, as I reached into the den to grab the doorknob, I looked out the den window and saw that the hockey game had stopped and a certain informal pairing off was taking place. A girl and boy sat on the boards talking. Another couple sat on the bench we keep on the back porch. Others passed a puck around.
One girl stood on the ice with her back to the house. A boy who was well-known to me skated toward her and, upon reaching her, put a hand on her hip and swung himself around as one might swing on a lamppost. Then he stopped beside her. They looked comfortable with each other. Easy. Natural. She slipped an arm around his waist and rested a white mittened hand on his hip.
I closed the door and went to bed.
Copyright © 2001 by Jack Falla. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher, McGregor Publishing Incorporated.
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