Both Spouse and I had the day off today – the first of a few in a row over the holiday season, I am pleased to report – and we started things off with a bang by getting up early and heading over to the local community centre for a free skate, courtesy of no less significant a Canadian institution than Tim Horton’s. It’s become a bit of a Christmas tradition for everyone’s favourite donut-and-coffee provider to provide free public skating on a number of days over the holidays in little rinks across Canada.
It’s a great idea, the perfect marriage of community-minded goodwill with a marketing opportunity made in heaven. Those most likely to partake are those who already spend a fair portion of their lives haunting the ramshackle rinks in the little places across this frozen country; travel team Dads, figure-skating circuit Moms and pickup hockeyists of all ages, shapes and sizes are the ones likely to see the signs and to bring out their loved ones for a free turn around the local sheet. They are also, of course, the folk most likely to be sitting rubbing their hands together in the frozen blue light of a cold Canadian morning that hasn’t quite arrived, desperately trying to warm the car up before heading off for their scheduled game, lesson or competition, and the folk most likely to drop in to the Horton’s drive thru for a cup o’ joe to try and stave off the chill for just a little while.
For me, the skate was a welcome opportunity to get out from under what Spouse assures me is a very powerful Christmas jinx that is certain to cause all manner of calamity. The particular jinx involved arises, I am told, when one has failed to use a Christmas gift prior to the next ensuing Christmas Day. As it happens, I have a brand spankin’ new set of CCM Tacks, a lovely Yuletide gift from Spouse last year that – with last winter’s search for a new home and our eventual move, among other things – didn’t get taken out for a single spin.
Needless to say, the boots were feeling a little stiff. I laced them up, pulled as tight as I could and knew I was in trouble when I had essentially run out of laces when it came time to tie the knot; this suggested very strongly to me that the skate boots were not drawn nearly as tight as they should be on my foot, a fact that was quickly confirmed when I took my first tentative steps out on to the ice. It was the difference between wearing the skates and having them tied to your leg; between standing in them and standing on them. I lasted only a few slow and technically undemanding laps before I retreated to the seating area for another attempt at tightening the laces much more substantially, an effort I am pleased to report was fruitful.
Spouse too was facing challenges; her own skates were a gift from her parents more than half a dozen years ago, a stoutly constructed pair of figure skates that are still rigidly unyielding and far from broken in.
Today’s skate was early: the session started at 8 o’clock and ran ’til 9:30. We arrived fashionably late, and were pleased to find that – on this day, perhaps because of the early Monday morning start – the sheet of ice was relatively empty. We turned our laps in the company of perhaps twenty other people, at most. We briefly tried a little ice dancing – Spouse is a brave soul to get into that kind of close quarters with a fellow whose two left feet and uniquely spastic rhythms have had their usual level of hazard augmented by the attachment of freshly sharpened blades to the bottom of his flailing limbs.
After forty-five minutes, our extremities were telling us we’d had enough and we headed back to the little dressing room with smiles on our faces. Skates removed, pins and needles buzzing in the bottoms of our feet, we headed out of the rink and were greeted warmly by a stranger coming in with an armload of hockey gear for an oldtimer’s game of some description. The rink is truly the hub of small town Canadian community, and you feel it very palpably as you stand in the lobby near the concession stand, smell the arena popcorn and french fries; you haven’t ever been in this building, but you have very definitely been here before. We headed out into the brilliant blue morning, rosy cheeked smiles on our faces, off to do our last minute Christmas shopping, or whatever else lay ahead on the snowy road in front of us.