I found this photograph of me and my father in what must have been 1976. It must have been, because I look like I could be about three years old in it.
I have a long, clear memory of my early years, and this day stands out. It was primarily tactile. I was doing something for the first time. It had been impressed upon me that new things were exciting (Oh, Schmutzie, you'll like this!), and so I was excited, even though I had no idea what was going to happen when we drove onto the graveled parking lot.
The day was hot, but there was a timid breeze wearing itself out through the pine trees from the lake. I had seen this flat of painted concrete before, and I was excited to be on it, because I had seen other people going in circles and circles on the other side of the half-wall when we drove by on the way to the golf course. I watched my father slide his feet into a pair of rented leather roller skates and turned to stare at the large people who went around and around. Everyone else looked like adults to me. I was the smallest person there. Their skates made a lot of noise, and I did not want those things on my feet. I wanted to run in circles on the concrete pad, not roll on loud wheels, and so my father had to coerce me into letting him strap a set of metal skates to my shoes. He used a large key to set their size.
He lifted me to my feet. The skates were so heavy that I could barely lift my own legs. As my father pushed me slowly forward between his knees, the weight of the metal skates forced my feet to skitter right and left. They banged into each other and tangled in his wheels. Point your toes forward, he directed. I tried and couldn't. I hated it. Suddenly it was too hot and too noisy and too hard. I tried to be brave and do it correctly, but I finally gave in and cried out of frustration until he carried me over to the parking lot and removed those terrible skates.
When I was in grade five, I got a pair of white leatherette roller skates with red wheels and rubber stoppers. They were almost as light as my regular shoes, and I was sailing up and down our crescent as though this were my special talent within the first week. I learned to hate people who cut out the first inch or so of turf next to the sidewalk, because I occasionally caught a wheel in the resulting rut and ended up picking ground-in gravel out of the heels of my hands.
Those skates were a size five. I was in grade five. I had five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot. There were five people in my family. My friend Laurie's telephone number was one digit different than Angela's telephone number, and that digit was the number five. Five, five, five, five, five.
Every night after wearing them, I would work the scuff marks off with an old toothbrush and some toothpaste. I had read about how to get marks off white shoes in one of my mother's Chatelaine magazines. My boots were brighter than white chalk.
No one else I knew had roller skates, especially my kid brother who had taken to trailing me anywhere he possibly could. I skated and skated and skated around our neighbourhood, and except for waving hello, I did not have to talk to anyone. To be alone, all I had to do was slip on those white boots and edge my way down the front steps to freedom. I would listen to the wind in my ears and feel pavement crunch through my wheels and have my mind filled with roller skating.
It felt right and perfect to be breathing in time with the pushing of my skates and to be smelling the dust and watered lawns and barbecues cooking. Skating was the only thing, and my mind flew away along the length of my hair.
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