My 9-year old neighbor Mary Jane said "It's frozen solid" as she poked at the ice on Little Pine Creek with the end of her shiny, silver skate blade.
I tested it with my weight just to make sure. It was as thin as single-pane window glass, and I could see the clear water rushing over the smooth rocks underneath. I was secure knowing I could see the bottom of the creek, because, if the ice did break, I wouldn't be trapped beneath the layers of frostiness.
My mom helped me put on my sister's white leather ice skates, making sure to pull tight on all of the frayed gray laces, but my tiny ankles were just not strong enough to support my lanky legs. I could not even stand in these wobbly things; surely skating on the creek in Shaler would be out of the question.
I could not wear them. After all, in the 1950s, I was only 6 and my sister was seven years older, wearing three sizes larger.
My sister would never allow me to skate with her and her friends -- I was too young. Therefore, I spent many days just running alongside or behind Mary Jane in my black rubber boots with big black buckles. She would glide for more than a mile in her pearly white, well-fitted leather ice skates with colorful pompom balls flowing. Her long, red, curly hair would stick out of her knitted wool hat.
She looked like a ballerina you would see inside a spinning top after you pumped it to get the inside metal leaves open to expose her. Sometimes she would jump over the sharp brown rocks that stuck out of the ice. I was in awe of her.
Christmas was approaching, so I told my mom how great it would be to someday skate on that frozen tundra with my own leather skates. I told her how much of the long winter would pass if I had to wait for Santa to bring them.
To my surprise, one day after my dad returned from work, he brought a small cardboard box home with him. I excitedly opened it, and inside was a pair of used, metal, double-bladed contraptions with red straps. I knew they were skates, but I couldn't figure out how they worked. I hurriedly put them over my shoes to see if they would fit -- they stuck out way beyond the end of my foot.
"They have to be adjusted," my dad said with a smile.
These heavy metal objects had a bolt and nut on the bottom, making the skate slide so you could adjust the size to fit any length of foot. I knew the neighborhood kids would laugh at me with these apparatuses on my feet, but I didn't care. I grabbed my oversized winter coat, long scarf and thick, knitted mittens as I clomped out the door to my front yard, stepping through the steep snow and making my marks to the ice-covered creek.
Once there, only seconds passed before I could hear the water trickling downstream after my face hit the ice. My foot was stuck in a hole I had made with the blade, and the cold water was pouring both into my shoe and inside the collar of my coat.
I was now gazing up at the dark gray sky. I reached for the blade with my wet, frozen mitten and twisted it free. Sluggishly, I made my way through the bottomless snow to home, where my mom unscrewed my skates and rubbed my red feet in her ever-so-warm hands.
I didn't give up after that day. In fact, years later, Mary Jane and I would race side-by-side up and down that same creek -- Mary Jane in her old tethered skates with worn threads of faded yarn, and me in my new, white, laced-up, leather skates with brightly colored pompoms flowing.
Norma Deer Imhof of Franklin Park can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.The PG Portfolio welcomes "Winter Musings" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255. First Published March 8, 2013 5:00 AM