“Are you going out skating again tonight?”
“I am, Mom,” Brian replied, excitedly. “The guys said they were going to get to the rink after supper and play hockey.”
“OK, but be home by eight”
“I will, Mom. See you.”
With his hockey stick through his new skates and lifted onto his shoulder, Brian headed out for the rink four blocks away. It was cold, but not too cold, just perfect for skating. All the neighbourhood guys and some of the dads had been out in the afternoon shovelling the recent snow off the ice. The puck would float over the ice tonight.
He turned into the alley and walked along a rut, listening to the crunch of the packed snow under his foot. There was not another sound to be heard other than an occasional bark from a neighbourhood dog. Looking up, Brian could see the stars shining in the clear, cold winter sky. What a great night for a skate!
This was still a new, experience for Brian. Last winter, when he was ten, he was struggling with skating and was unhappy. The only skates in his house that would fit belonged to Uncle Jim. The trouble was that his uncle had been a competitive figure skater. Those black skates with picks on the front were not only an embarrassment at the rink, but Jim found them impossible to skate on. There was little ankle support and those damn picks caught the ice, without warning, tripping him to the ice face first. At first he pushed around a chair to keep him on his feet. At Christmas he got a hockey stick as a present from his brother and used it as a crutch to slither over the ice.
Bruised knees, elbows, shoulders, and ego were finally too much to bear. By the end of January last winter, Brian stopped going to the rink with skates. Once and while he just took his stick with him and ran around the rink, trying to play in the hockey games. That wasn’t much fun. More nights were spent at home building the model kits he got for Christmas, rather than out on the rink with the guys.
Last winter was long, and the rink was still in good shape when Dad brought home a big box one night in March and handed it to Brian.
“What is this, Dad?”
“You open it and have a look, son. I just hope they fit.”
As he lifted the lid Brian saw a pair of hockey skates, not new, but in good shape. They were the real thing, complete with ankle guards.
“Now you can keep up with the other kids when they play hockey at the rink, Brian,” Mom said. She could hardly hold back her excitement as she watched Brian’s eyes open wide and a smile come over his face.
“Wow Dad. Thanks.”
“Try them on. They were your cousin Tom’s skates, but he has grown out of them. I just got them sharpened so be careful. Those blades can cut your fingers.”
It took three extra pairs of socks to get them to fit tight enough and support his ankle properly, but Brian didn’t care. These were real boys’ skates. Hockey skates. No more tripping over the picks of those awful figure skates.
The next day, Brian went to the rink as early as he could, before the other kids showed up. He didn’t know what it would be like to skate on these skates and worried he would look silly. Sure enough, three steps out onto the ice in the new skates and down he went, right on his shoulder. That hurt. He tried again and again, but no luck. There were always a few chairs left at the rink for those that needed them, so Brian got one and worked at trying to skate smoothly over the ice, but it just wasn’t happening. He quit in frustration, took off the skates and walked home.
He couldn’t get skating out of his mind, so, later in the day, after the other kids had gone home for supper, Brian came back to the rink with his skates. He sat at the edge and watched a couple of men skating. How could they make it look so easy? They weren’t playing hockey, just skating slowly around the rink in long, gliding strides. Brian figured that if he could move like that he should be able to skate as well.
Once the men left Brian was on his own, so he put on his skates and went out on the rink to try again, without a chair. He fell several times, but then he started to feel what it was like to glide over the ice rather than just shuffle along on his skates. It was getting dark, so Brian went over to the power pole and turned on the rink lights. He stayed there for another hour, working at his new skill, falling less and skating faster.
He was so focussed on what he was doing that he didn’t see his dad at the edge of the rink.
“What are you doing, Brian? Your mother and I were worried when you didn’t come home on time.”
“Look Dad. I can skate now.”
With that he turned up the rink and skated around the edge of the ice and back to his dad.
“Well, that is good, Brian. I’m glad those skates have worked out, but you really must come home, have some supper, and get to bed.” His dad had come to the rink annoyed at Brian for being so thoughtless about missing supper, but once he saw the smile on his boy’s face all he could think of was how proud he was that his son could be so determined in what he was doing. They walked home together on that winter night, talking about hockey and some of the great National Hockey League stars.
For the next week Brian was out on the ice every night after supper. He became more confident with each evening’s skate. By the weekend he felt confident enough to join in the shinny games of hockey.
This year was even better. Brian got some shin guards and a new hockey stick for Christmas and had developed a pretty hard shot. The walk over to the rink was always filled with anticipation of a hockey game or a game of pom-pom-pull-away and this night was no different. When he got there all the kids were playing pom-pom-pull-away. He wished they were playing hockey, but he could see that a lot of the girls from the neighbourhood were there so the chasing game would be fun. They played under the lights on the rink until there were only a few kids left.
With his skates and stick on his shoulder, he made his way home. This time he walked on the street sidewalk lit by the street lights. As he always did, Brian watched as each light created a shadow that changed length as he walked. Each light he passed took over with a new shadow that stretched out in front of him as he went, but then disappeared as it was overcome with the next light.
The old man stood at the edge of the rink, remembering and watching the kids glide over the ice as they played shinny. This community had several ice rinks and there was another one where little kids were shuffling over the ice and the older girls were practicing their figure skating. He couldn’t help but notice that there were no boys practicing figure skating and kept thinking back to those first days when he learned how to skate. He left to go home, happy. As he walked along the sidewalk the street lights again created the shadows that used to be fun to watch so many years ago. He watched them grow and then fade, just as before, and kept his thoughts in the past, on those good nights in the cold of winter.