True Winter Tales: Today's pick

By Heather Lynn Carr

We skated to school in the winter.  We would don our skates at the front door, tie our shoes together and sling them over our shoulders, and carefully pick our way across the street hopping down along to the hard frozen surface of the channel.  Directly across the road from our house we would take that frozen channel which was long that led to a frozen lake which was wide, and it spanned that frozen distance between freedom and school on the other side.  At the end of that channel and across that lake was the big field, a thick blanket of white which led to our looming school ahead, the only visible landmark for miles, a frozen silhouette in the semi-darkness of early winter mornings.

The channel was always the final heat of a long distance race and imaginations soared at Olympic speed as we would vie for Gold.  Our hand-me-down skates were worn and well used.  Girls often wore "boys" (I was one of the girls who wore boys'skates and it wasn't until I was fully grown before I owned and wore my first pair of women's white figure skates with toe picks), and loved or hated, they were handed down and accepted with varied pride or embarrassment, regret or resignation, and always reused, sometimes four and five times exchanged by siblings and neighbors'children and even the children's children.  The skates were soft and threadbare, the leather broken and cracked and rubbed to a thin skin on ankles no longer supported.  The dull, chipped, rusting blades leaned sideways and the laces wore knots upon knots, restrung and retightened at each rest stop, and all along the icy surface we slid our way to school on implements aged with love.

We would reach the lake after declaring the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat with the false bravado necessary to endure the coldest part of the journey.  The crossing of the lake was a barren Siberia with blowing winds and chills that would freeze the dead.  The lake edge hid polar bears behind snow banks and in darkened shadows eyes watched and waited cloaked under the sounds of air pockets ricocheting through the ice like thunder and gunshots, always threatening to crack open and swallow the skaters into dark black oblivion.

Crystals formed from heated breath and scarves froze with white milk rings of o's where mouths were covered, and eyelashes with frosted tips clouded by tiny snowflakes watered and froze, and melted and froze.  Ears uncovered could turn red to white to black and toes and fingertips numbed beyond feeling screamed when thawed inside that warmth that beckoned, that freedom lost no longer a thing to be scorned but welcomed inside the protective walls of that school.  The skates cemented to socked feet were peeled away and tucked in classroom closets and waited for day's end to return to that frozen universe.  We skated to school in the winter.

Heather Lynn Carr is from Nanoose Bay, B.C

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