Inside Edge…

Question #7:
What is one thing you’ve always wanted to do during the holiday season, but haven’t done thus far?

Every year as winter approaches, I receive the Stars on Ice pre-sale email from Ticketmaster, and I am drawn back to my childhood.

I learned to skate on those double-bladed kids skates that Donny Osmond wore on the Donnie and Marie show, on a pond, in winter. Skating then meant layers of mittens and coats and socks inside too-large skates. I vaguely recall a pond under the Navesank Bridge, but that can’t be right, and is probably a mix of memories.

As I got a little older, and we lived in Georgetown, my skating venues expanded. There was the reservoir, where it was so cold the ripples would freeze into the ice, and, in February, when it had frozen a foot thick, there would be Porsche rallies, but there was also the baseball diamond. They would put a liner on it, and a foot-high fence, and make a skating rink, and we kids would walk there after school and skate til our fingers turned blue and our chins were numb, and the sky was beyond twilight and into full dark. We would sit under the streetlamp that shone on the bleachers and un-tie laces that were crusted with snow and ice, and then we would walk home to waiting mothers and steaming mugs of hot chocolate. Life was innocent in that time and place. We second graders could walk from the baseball diamond at the park, through town, to our homes, and never worry about being stolen or molested.

It wasn’t all great, of course, because most of us had to wear these scratchy silvery socks that were just itchier than anything had ever been or could ever be itchy. Imagine the itchy sort of wool woven with tinsel, and that’s what they felt like. Oh, sure, our feet were warm, but we scratched them raw when we got home.

Well, once we could feel our fingers.

I haven’t skated outdoors (the faux arena in downtown San Jose notwithstanding) since I was seven. By the time I was ten, we’d already moved to a real city, and while I still went ice skating with my friends after school, it was at the rink attached to the Y. Better ice, hot chocolate right there, but not as much fun at all. The magic was missing. I haven’t skated AT ALL since before I was married, when my mother and I took lessons in San Jose. It was fun, but again, inside. No magic.

(Somewhat ironically, I never went skating at all in South Dakota either, as it was usually TOO cold, and no one else knew how.)

The thing is, winter isn’t winter without ice skating. And as much as I hate the cold most of the time, there are moments when I want the scratchy silver thermal socks, when I crave the cold air freezing my nose as I race around the rink, when nothing could possibly be better than coming home to a warm fire and hot cocoa, after a day on the ice.


Welcome to the December Question of the Day. Please post your answer in your own journal or blog, and comment here.

Question #7:
What is one thing you’ve always wanted to do during the holiday season, but haven’t done thus far?

Timeless Toys

Question #6:
In your opinion, what is the most timeless toy?

There’s something special about the smell of wooden blocks. It’s different from the scent of freshly cut lumber, different from the smell of any other wood blocks. It’s sweeter, earthier, darker and lighter at once, as if somehow, wooden blocks, and especially wooden blocks that have been handled (sometimes rather roughly) by the tiny hands of more than one generation, hold within them the essence of youth, the spirit of play, the kernel of imagination, and the garden of dreams, all compressed, folded in on themselves time after time, until what remains is a fairly innocuous object.

But what possiblities are in that object!

We talk about metaphorical building blocks all the time, protein, fundamental education, basic cooking skills, these are the building blocks of bodies, intellect, life skills.

Just as important are the building blocks we once used to actually, you know, build.

I remember sitting on the rug in the den near the ghastly yellow recliner my grandfather so loved, arranging blocks into different configurations. The same collection of rectangular and square bits of wood would form in rapid succession: the cages in a zoo, a sky scraper, a tree house, a log cabin, a ship, a town square, a mansion, a thought, a hope, a dream…

I remember the alphabet blocks, with their paint faded, chipped and worn, so the letters on them were as much as mystery as whose hands held them first. (Perhaps my mother, or her older brother, or one of my cousins?)

I remember a faded green rectangular block so old it’s edges had softened, rounded, blurred. It was the size of a bar of soap, a matchbox car, a wish.

I remember my grandfather insisting I sort the blocks by color, shape, and size before I could build (he was just as anal with the tinker toys, with the train sets, with everything). “Lay out your lumberyard,” he would coach, and I would tuck my braids behind my ears and willingly comply.

I remember feeling wistful, when I was too old for blocks, and passed them down to a younger cousin, a child who couldn’t possibly have appreciated them the way I did. The way I do.

I remember my grandfather’s hands, calloused, gnarled, thickened with age, when he would help me build, and I remember his regretful expression the year he could no longer hunker down on the floor and play with me, the year he was relegated to the sidelines of building block play.

We switched to breadmaking after that. I always thought it was because he just liked to bake. Now I wonder if maybe something in those golden loaves, rectangular, firm, loaves, reminded him of blocks.