I’ve got a brand new pair of roller skates! Well, new to me anyway.
(Come on, you know this was inevitable)
I found them at our neighborhood yard sale on Saturday. The very first house I stopped at (because they were selling cotton candy in the front yard, natch), there they were on the easement, waiting for me. I crept up on them and casually checked the size. Hm. Impossible to say for sure. I looked around to see if anyone was watching, then kicked off my flip flop and stuck my foot inside. And they fit!
There was no price tag attached. I was prepared to offer $5. Turns out, they only wanted $3.
This is possibly the best $3 I’ve ever spent. I put them on when I got home and didn’t take them off for the rest of the day. I skated around the house like some kind of manic diner waitress and around the neighborhood like a big dork. I waved and smiled at everyone, and they waved and smiled back. It has occurred to me that perhaps they just thought I was mentally deranged and didn’t want to upset me. But no matter.
I. Love. Skating. I’ve always loved skating, probably about as much as one can, while remaining so utterly not a sk8tr. I remember being at the pediatrician when I was six or seven or eight and the doctor asked if I played soccer. I said no, and she said something like, “Hmm, but your legs are so muscular.” Even at the tender young age of six or seven or eight I took this as code for “thighs like big tree trunks,” and was utterly mortified, until whichever parent was with me said something like, “Well, she roller skates a lot.” And the doctor said that made sense.
Not that a child should have to justify her legs to her doctor….
She’s got legs you idiot! Human legs!
…but this was the first time it had occurred to me that skating wasn’t just about avoiding social interaction with other kids and pretending to be Wendy flying over the rooftops of London. It was, to my surprise, an athletic activity that apparently made me visibly strong. By this age I had pretty much already bricked myself in as anchoress of the “non-athlete” corner of the universe, so this was something to ponder.
I have so many vivid memories related to roller skates and skating. It’s been almost a decade since I’ve even tried it, and yet it seems like it’s been important to me my whole life.
Fisher Price and Puppy Love
When I was four or five, I had those expanding Fisher Price orange roller skates that strap on over your shoes. We bought them at our next door neighbor’s annual garage sale, which means they belonged to Melissa before they belonged to me. My first love, Tommy, who lived across the street had the same ones. He also had a really steep driveway. I remember wearing our matching skates, crouching, knees to our chins so we wouldn’t fall, and closing our eyes as we rolled down his driveway while holding hands, probably hitting a top speed of about 1 mph. We were terrified of falling, not because we might get hurt, but because we might tumble into the yard of Mrs. B_____ next door, who did not brook with children on her lawn. We thought she was evil. (She wasn’t)
My Little Pony and Grandma’s House
One year, I stayed with my grandma over my birthday weekend. I want to say it was the year I turned seven (it was my golden birthday and I had also just lost my 7th tooth) but I’m just not sure. I have lots of blurry memories of visiting my grandma in the summertime, but I think this time it was just me–Ben wasn’t there. I got a pair of “real” roller skates–the kind that you wear instead of shoes, not over them. White with My Little Pony logos on the side, and a wrapping velcro strap that was easy to pull tight. And turquoise wheels.
Grandma’s condo was on the second floor of the building, and to get to her garage and parking lot, you had to go down yet another level to the basement. I remember wearing my skates and clinging to the railing, gingerly side stepping down the two flights. Why? Why did she let me do that? Why didn’t I just put them on when I got down there? I have no idea.
At some point, I graduated to a brand new pair of white skates with neon pink wheels and laces. These were fairly heavy duty and sporty, like hi-tops/moon boots with wheels. These are the skates I remember having at elementary school skate nights, where we would go to the Orbit roller rink and the ancient man would garble incomprehensible instructions into the mic. The only one you could understand was “All skate! All skate!” which meant you could hop down from the carpet-covered plywood bench where you were waiting during couples skating and backwards skating and push yourself back onto the rink.
I also remember skating by myself to Pioneer Park, where I had to get up the nerve to roll down what seemed to me to be a very steep hill (it wasn’t). There were two hills right next to each other, leading from the playground to the pool entrance. I started by skating up the steeper one and rolling down the gentler slope. Over and over and over and over. Then, one brave day, I switched.
I briefly had a pair that I scavenged from my grandma’s basement (different grandma). They must have been my aunt’s around 1980. These were blue and red leather, like bowling shoes.
I have no memory of actually skating in these. I just remember one morning Ben and I were eating breakfast, and somehow it became known that our dog had chewed up one of the skates. My dad flew into an absolute rage at the dog, who peed all over the kitchen floor in terror. I remember feeling sick to my stomach. I had Berry Berry Kix and they were disgusting and soggy and I didn’t want to eat them but I was afraid not to.
I was convinced I could salvage the skates–they’d just be ankle-height instead of boots. But it didn’t really work that way.
Investing in the Next Big Thing
When I was in fourth grade, we got rollerblades. This was the first big purchase for which I remember saving my money. They came from Toys ‘R’ Us. We had to split the cost with our parents. Were the blades $40 and we had to come up with $20? Or is it conceivable that they were $80 and we had to come up with $40? That seems like so much, but I know $40 figured prominently somehow. Around this time I also learned about sales tax, and the cruel and unusual ways it is inflicted upon the citizens of Cook County .
My parents fronted the money for the skates, and we kept a yellow sheet of legal paper on the fridge outlining our repayment schedule. Each week when we got our allowance part of it went to paying off the rollerblades. They were so awesome. Black with purple and yellow adjustable clips, like ski boots. I liked to fasten them so tight I couldn’t feel my feet. Ben’s skates and mine were the same, but his were a smaller size.
And at this point, on my fifth pair of skates in as many years, my feet more or less stopped growing. I maybe gained half a size more in the next five years. (My God, my feet were basically the same size at age 9 as they are now. How does any child make it through puberty unscarred? Jesus.)
These blades carried me through another four years or so of annual school skate nights and birthday parties. My friend Angie had a skating party, followed, I think, by a sleepover where I had my first real exposure to horror movies, in 7th grade. This, unbeknownst to me at the time, turned out to be about the last time I would wear those rollerblades.
Ben grew out of his skates and into mine. And then at some point no one had skating parties anymore, and that was the end of it.
Bad Blade Romance
The summer after I graduated high school, my boyfriend wanted to take me skating. So I borrowed his sister’s blades, or rustled up a pair at the church rummage sale, or maybe both. We went skating once in the forest preserve near where we lived, and once after I started college (his school was a mile up the road from mine). Just like always, I was terrified of gaining too much speed on the hill, and jumped off the path into the grass, while he went zooming over the precipice (such as it was). We broke up like a week later, so read whatever metaphor into that you like, and I was somehow made to feel responsible for the fact that for the rest of the semester he went on brooding 20 mile skating treks in the middle of the night and repeatedly crashed and injured himself miles away from home.
Until this weekend, I don’t think I’d even been back on wheels since that last, ill-fated attempt–almost ten years ago now. So, how’s it going?
It. Is. The. Best. I love the sound and the feel of the asphalt under my feet–wooooshthunk, wooooshthunk, woooooshthunk.
I am not fast. I skated along with Sam when he went on a run and he left me in the dust. And more than 20 years after rolling down Tommy’s driveway, I am still freaked out by hills and have a tendency to jump off into the grass and sidestep down them. The sidewalks in my neighborhood are crappy (or, cracky). And just when you get comfortable, a stick or rock will get caught in your wheels and try to murder you.
It is the best thing ever.