Friday, March 13, 2015

Carnival of memories

This rather fuzzy photo is the only one I could find of the rink I mention here.
It burned down several years ago.

Parents' Neighbours' Daughter  sent us a video this week of Princess #1 (who is now 3), skating in a toddler group at her very first ice carnival.  They were skating to a country-western song, wearing cowboy hats over their helmets (!) and neckerchiefs.

I saw those adorable little girls tentatively make their way out onto the ice -- a couple of them immediately going SPLAT!, of course! ;) (Princess #1 is a good little skater, and did not fall once.)  I started giggling.

And then I started crying. It was just all too cute, and all too familiar, and all too painful. One of those "ouch" moments that still comes out of the blue and lands with a THUD.

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Like so many little Canadian girls of the time & place where I grew up (1960s-70s  Prairies), I learned to skate as a toddler (on a backyard rink made by my dad, in a pair of hockey skates borrowed from a neighbour, pushing a TV tray to help me learn how to balance). And then, when I was in kindergarten (a bit older than Princess #1 is now), my mom enrolled me in figure skating lessons at the local rink. Over the next 7-8 years, I never progressed beyond the basic badge program, never mastered more than a simple three-turn, a single jump and a couple of basic, wobbly moves (a two-foot spin, a sit spin (which inevitably ended with me sitting on the ice), a spiral). I never competed -- only a very few of the very best girls from our club ever did. Mostly, we attended group lessons and practice sessions, got tested twice a season for new badges and, at the end of each season, participated in the ice carnival.

The carnival (usually held in late February or early March -- we didn't have artificial ice back then, and that was generally about as long as you could expect the ice to last) was the highlight of the year. The entire town would turn out. Three teenaged girls from the community would vie to sell the most raffle tickets, and the winner would be crowned Queen of the Carnival during intermission that evening.  With a REAL TIARA and a red robe to wear. (One year, the Queen was our regular babysitter. We were thrilled!)  Each group performed a number, and participated with all the other groups in a grand finale. We got to wear costumes, and makeup!! Sometimes, my mom would even take us to the hairdresser to get our hair done!  AND, we got to take the afternoon off school to attend the dress rehearsal!! (The rink was directly across the street from the school.)  Life doesn't get much better when you're 10 or 12 years old. :) 

Sometimes the carnival would have a theme. 1970 was Manitoba's centennial, so we had a Manitoba/Canadian theme. I can't for the life of me remember what my group skated to, but I remember one of the numbers was "These Eyes" by the Guess Who.

Sometimes, there was no theme, just a mishmash of musical selections.  One year, my group skated to "Hair" by The Cowsills (from the musical of the same name). We wore jeans, vests over turtleneck sweaters, love beads, and long-haired wigs made by our mothers -- they made caps out of the panty part of an old pair of tights, and then pulled strands of wool through to make "hair." My sister's group skated to "Dominique" by The Singing Nun that year. All the girls were nuns, wearing lilac-coloured (?? -- someone must have gotten a discount on fabric??) habits, while one of the few, brave boys in the club skated around them in a mini-solo dressed as a priest. :)  The grand finale was to "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night.

The wooden bleachers were packed with townspeople, so during the show, we would sit on wooden benches lining the sides of the rink, bundled up in our parkas & blankets, sipping hot chocolate and watching our clubmates perform. A number or two ahead of when we skated, we would leave the ice & congregate in one of the dressing rooms normally used by the hockey players. We'd sit on the wooden benches lining the walls (someone looked underneath once, and found wads and wads of ancient, hardened chewing gum that players had removed from their mouths & stuck underneath -- ewww!!) and, to kill time and quell our nerves, before making our grand entrance and doing the routine we'd been practicing for so long, we'd play "telephone" -- one girl would whisper something in the ear of the girl next to her, who would then whisper to the girl next to her, and so on down the line, until the very last girl would say aloud what she had heard. Usually it bore no resemblance whatsoever to the original statement, and we would all dissolve into giggles. Those were the days! 

That rink was practically my second home back then, from about November through the end of February/early March. It was the centre of social life in the community. Figure skating for the girls, hockey for the boys, free skating for everyone. The curling rink was across the street, and we'd run back and forth between the two (both my parents curled, and were often there).  We would have our lessons on Saturday mornings, and then practice until the hockey players arrived for practices or games and booted us out. And then we'd spend Sunday afternoons, and several afternoons during the week after school, practicing or attending free skates.

The rink was just down the back alley from my girlfriend's house, and we could hear the music playing (usually the latest K-Tel collection of recent hits -- and, for some reason, Buddy Knox's "Party Doll," ad nauseum) as we walked there (by ourselves, of course -- we were all free range kids back then), the snow crunching under our feet, our breaths visible in the crisp air. When you walked in the rink, the smell of hamburgers and onions frying at the canteen would assault your nostrils, along with smell of musty wooden plank floors and that distinct aroma of Eau de Hockey Equipment Bag. Half the fun of going to the rink was bingeing on treats from the canteen -- chips and pop, sour cherry and sour grape gum balls, licorice whips, Pixie Stix and chocolate bars. We would spend the next hour or two on the ice, practicing what we'd learned at our lesson on Saturday morning, making up routines to the music, playing crack the whip, chasing after the Zamboni as it cleaned the ice and made it shiny and smooth again, gossiping with our friends, playing hide & seek under the wooden bleachers. Glorious fun.

And then we moved. The girls my age in our new town were much more advanced than I was in the skating program -- and not many of them skated anymore, anyway. Rather than be put back with the younger girls, I gave up skating lessons. I still skated for fun now & then (and then there was roller disco skating when I was in my late teens...), but I haven't been on skates of any kind in well over 30 years (although I follow figure skating on TV, and can do beautiful triple jumps in my dreams, lol).  The old tin barn of a rink where I spent so many hours as a kid burned down a few years back. I sent a donation to the rebuilding fund. I could easily imagine the hole that its absence had left in the community.

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All these memories came flooding back as I watched the video. And of course, it was also a reminder of the memories that never came to be. I had no doubt whatsoever that Katie would learn to skate, if not become the next Karen Magnussen or Elizabeth Manley. Or maybe even the next Hayley Wickenheiser. :)

One more thing (of many) that we've missed out on. :(

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