In Montreal, in 1969, when I was five years old, my mother bundled me up in my snowsuit and we walked to the skating rink. She strapped twin-blade cheese cutters onto my boots.
Not a skater, she held my hand and walked me around the rink as I took baby steps. Eventually, she let go of my hand. I was proud as she watched me. There were no helmets in those days, and I fell and bumped my face on the boards. I cried and then sported a black eye for a few days.
The next year, Mummy signed me up for skating lessons. I learned how to skate and perform a little twirl. We moved to the north end of Montreal in 1972 and, on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons, I’d meet up with friends at the neighbourhood arena. Admission was 25 cents. Another quarter got you a box of Cracker Jack.
I remember the big day when Mummy took me downtown by metro to Eaton’s where I got a brand new pair of white leather Karen Magnussen skates, named for the Canadian and world figure skating champion. The skates were a couple of sizes too big. Mummy said I’d grow into them. She was right.
Watching figure skating competitions on TV in the 1970s was a family event. We were in awe of Toller Cranston’s incredible Russian splits and other ground-breaking moves. Sadly, he recently passed away.
The years went by. I moved to Ottawa in the late-1980s and discovered skating on the canal. I no longer had to skate in circles!
During the first few years of the new millennium, my husband Allan and I spent many a Sunday watching our young sons learn to skate in local arenas. Once they’d mastered the basics, we took the boys skating on the canal. Each time we went, it was the same ordeal. By the time we got the kids’ skates on and then our own, I was exhausted. Then the complaints started. “My feet are sore.” “My toes are cold.” ‘I’m tired.” Some of those complaints came from me! BeaverTails and hot chocolate made everyone happy.
Nowadays, our teenage sons don’t want to go skating with us. It’s not cool to hang out with your parents.
One morning in early February, after not skating for a couple of years, I had an irresistible urge to skate. It was snowing and I was at home by myself. I went down to the basement to get my skates. At the last minute, I decided to leave my unblemished skates and take my beat-up Karen Magnussen oldies but goodies.
I headed to my neighbourhood rink in front of the Centrepointe library. To my disappointment, the rink was covered in several inches of fresh snow. Normally, I would have gone home, but, for some reason, I was determined to skate that day. I asked the security guard if I could borrow the shovel next to his desk. He said it was against the rules; a liability issue. When I was a kid, there were no such rules! The ice maintenance personnel would come at noon. It was 11 am. I scoffed, went home, got my own shovel, came back and spent a half-hour clearing off a portion of the rink. Then I changed into my skates and stepped onto the ice. I got my balance and set off. Round and round I went for quite some time. I was the only one there. It was marvellous!
A young woman arrived with her toddler and spent several minutes attaching a modern version of cheese cutters to her little girl’s boots. The girl whined, fell down, cried and crawled around her mother’s feet. The woman got frustrated and gently informed her daughter it was time to go home.
“They grow up so fast,” I told the young mother. “I remember those days with my sons. And I remember skating as my mother held my hand. Enjoy these moments.”
Alone on the rink once again, I skated to my heart’s content. Suddenly, I realized that day would have been my mother’s 81st birthday. I looked up at the grey sky as the snow continued falling. I did a little twirl and smiled. I knew Mummy was watching me.