Thursday, 4 December 2014

First skates

It was Saturday morning, the one before Christmas, and Jordan knew she'd left it late.
She wasn't afraid that the gift she was planning to give her eight-year-old daughter would be sold out.
It wasn't the latest iPhone or limited edition American girl doll, the gift ideas she saw in the screaming ads on her app.
She hadn't had to jostle with all the other moms to get her gift on Black Friday.
There would be no Fed Ex truck, no brown guy with dead eyes coming to the door.
This present had to be bought in person.
She knew that the item would be there, in aisle 36, of Canadian Tire. It was there, she could see it in her mind's eye, in the spot these kinds of gifts could always be found near the back of the cramped store with the tiny aisles in a place marked "sporting goods".
Jordan hadn't been to Canadian Tire since forever but a visit there was always like coming home, first with the assault to the senses only a Canadian could understand, that weird tire smell, not like the smell at Costco, where the confused nostril got a whiff of a combination of tires and hot dogs, a smell that always kind of made a person sick.
No, Canadian Tire, it had the real tire smell, mixed with that same sort of oily scent she remembered coming off her Granddad when he came in from fixing up her mother's car.
Jordan could have gone anyplace to buy her gift, from a speciality shop, even, she supposed, to a grocery superstore. But Canadian Tire was the place. It had always been the place.
Jordan kissed her husband's snoring head, checked on Lisa who was already up watching an endless loop of Frozen.
Let it go, Jordan smile. Please, let it go.
"You, okay? I'm just going out shopping?"
Lisa waved her off, like she was swatting at a fly.

Jordan wheeled into the Starbuck's drive-through, ordered herself an expensive latte, and then snaked into the Canadian Tire parking lot. It was 8 a.m. and packed like a sardine can, like it always was. Didn't matter how many big box stores that came to Canada, there was always a certain element of Canuck who remained true to the Canadian Tire. Maybe it was the funny money with the odd Scottish fellow on the front, maybe it was the tire smell, certainly it wasn't the customer service.
But everywhere in Canada, people still gravitated to the iconic store where their granddads shopped and their dads shopped. And here she was the Saturday before Christmas braving the human carwash that was the annual pre-Xmas shopping ritual.
Jordan didn't worry, she'd be in and out. She didn't need a cart because she knew exactly where to go, aisle 36, sporting goods.
And true to form, she found what she was looking for under piles and piles of different sizes.
These weren't skates she remembered, they had posh fake fur around the top and names like BladeRunner and SoftTec. They weren't one-size fits all, as they were when she was growing up.
But miraculously, they were the very same price.
Didn't matter the cost.
It's what they felt like, smelled like.
Skates, brilliant white girls' skates with gleaming steel blades.
They weren't pink or blue, they weren't designer blades, they were simply girls' skates with the familiar new car smell.
Still white like a new born bunny.
Just as she remembered them.
In her Grandfather's memory, she was carrying on a tradition.

Every Christmas, Gramps would take her to Canadian Tire for a new pair of skates.
Well, they weren't new; they were, as they say, new to her.
Unless a girl was Barbara Ann Scott -- and let's face it, in the early 60s, there weren't many Barbara Ann Scott's -- nobody got new skates. This was the 60s, after all, and new skates were a waste. Used skates came as advertised, still gleaming white, laces still pristine as their first time out of the box, blades shimmering as the overhead neon gave them a show.
The used section was in the basement of the place, where the blade sharpening fellow made his living, and the place bustled. This was small town Ontario where people didn't have lots of money.
Not unlike his neighbors, Gramps was frugal, and didn't see the point of buying something new when used was perfectly good. It made sense to Jordan, too.
What did it matter? Who would see her skates, other than her brothers who were the only other tenants of Gramps' home made rink, in the back behind the barn.
Maybe the cat. Maybe a rat. Maybe, Penny, the golden retriever who liked to spend time pulling her around.
The first skate was always a bit rough for the only little girl. The rink was pockmarked and filled with the bodies of dirty, sweaty boys with hockey sticks and pucks, older boys who hogged the ice for hours after school.
The best Jordan could hope for was a little skate around the boards before, inevitably, she got an elbow or a shot to the head and would go in crying and asking for the bad, lumpy cocoa which was always on the stove.
As the sister of boys, Jordan learned quickly that her grandfather's rink, which he and her uncles braved wind and sleet to water morning and night, was no place for a girl, well, not a girly girl at least.
This didn't make Jordan sad, not at all.
She was after all, a farm girl. She grew up knowing that a stick was more than a stick.
With a little imagination, it was a sword.
Jordan had her places, spots even her granddad didn't know about.
Just after pancake dinner, the first night of the skates, Jordan would disappear. No one was really sure where she went.
And frankly, nobody bothered to look.
On that frigid first night, there was a full moon that was so bright, it lit the way clear to the back of the farm. This was a night to treasure, like a jewel found by the side of the road, planted there just for her.
Jordan bundled up her crimson coat, the one given to her by cousin Cathy, the one that wasn't quite warm enough for nights like this. She donned her mitts and hat, fixed on her winter boots and grabbed the gleaming skates for her first adventure.
It was a treacherous go, the path was spotted with patches of black ice.
Before long, she went down, sharp on her elbow, a blow that brought tears to her eyes.
Jordan dusted herself off and carried on for what seemed like a mile, but now that she's thinking of it, it was probably only a third that distance, until she found the sweet spot; it was lit perfectly by the moon overhead, a wonderful, large, patch of ice probably no bigger than her mother's tiny living room.
Good enough.
Jordan sat-fell down on her rump, quickly tossed off her mitts and fumbled with her unwieldy boot laces. Her fingers were beginning to freeze, so she needed to act quickly.
Skates were always a bother with what seemed like hundreds of laces to undo, then do, hard for a little girl who had just barely learned to tie her shoes. But she managed. She was determined.
She was Barbara Ann Scott.
Skates finally tied, well somewhat tied, she fumbled to get her mitts back on, feeling the stinging and the numbness of another Canadian winter, the kind the poets used to write about.
Frosty the Snowman had nothing on Jordan.

Jordan struggled to get up.
And then she was down, smacking her head on the unforgiving sheet of ice.
The tears ran down her frozen cheeks, as she scrambled to her feet.
I'll never give up, never give up, never give....
Up, up, up.
And suddenly, she found herself upright.
Jordan moved one foot forward, then another. It was hard at first, but she had muscle memory. She was a veteran at eight, having done this since she was five.
Slow and steady, that was the formula.
I think I can, I think I can, I can, can, can.
And she did it.
Quickly, expertly, she was gliding around her little God-made pond in the middle of her granddad's fruit farm, around and around she went, lifting her leg, spreading her arms, the cold air freezing her nose hairs to attention.
The sweat beaded on her forehead and the light coat seemed hot, and bulky while her feet were like ice cubes and her hands numb.
She heard her mother's voice.
Time to go, child, watch the frost bite.
Don't want to lose those toes.
It was the siren call of sensibility, drummed into every farm girl from the dawn of time.
If you don't leave now, your toes will fall off.
Don't run with those scissors, you might lose an eye.
Rural legends designed to keep little girls safe.
It was time to go, but not before Jordan took time to survey her kingdom, the silhouettes of the peach and pear trees, the lights from the Houtby farm a mile down the road, and the twinkle of the Christmas lights on her favorite evergreen back at the farm.
She stopped, listened to the silence and began to sing at the top of her voice.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.

Then she was skating again, like Barbara Ann Scott, twirling and gliding, twirling and gliding.
And singing to the moon.
Baying at the moon, Gramps might have said.
Her heart was full and she couldn't wait to tell everybody about the pond in the middle of the farm she'd discovered, about the moon sending her down a personal spotlight, about the fact that she could skate like Barbara Ann Scott.
It was time to go. She'd already outstayed her welcome, already put her toes in peril.
She tried to act quickly, her hands wouldn't work.
There would be a price to be paid, but no matter.
Kids never learn.
The walk back to the farm seemed to take a century.

"Did you find what you needed?" asked the cashier, who met Jordan's eyes with a weary smile. "Just the skates?"
"Just the skates," she answered.
She ran her fingers over the big familiar box and accepted her fifty cents worth of Canadian Tire money, the weird and funny money that she used to save for toys.
And she shot through the doors and into her waiting, and now chilly SUV.
She couldn't wait to show Lisa the skates, and to take her out on the Rideau Canal for the first time in her little life. Couldn't wait to introduce her to BeaverTails and good hot chocolate.
That would be Lisa's memory of her first pearly white skates.
No two memories, or traditions, are ever the same, she thought to herself.
Nor should they be.


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