Listen to Memories on Thin Ice, read by the author w/music by Dean Martin, and Darlene Love
Or read it yourself below :
Memories on Thin Ice I can’t be the only one longing to conjure the rose-tinted ghosts of holidays past, dredging up ecstatic memories of instantly harmonious families, jam packed together in the adrenaline rush and chaos of Christmas…can I?
In my youth, winter was mostly bitter cold and you could smell the snow coming. It paired well with that whiff of camphor from the Vicks VapoRub I’d gooped onto my chest to minimize the pesky cold and cough that would have kept me home on a school day, but now must be ignored because it is Christmas vacation and there is important work to be done outdoors. First, a token attempt to help with the shoveling, quickly abandoned as my father revs up the Wheel Horse tractor with the snow plow attachment and obliterates my fake work ethic in under 5 minutes, forcing me to move on to other tasks where my talents are better suited – snowmen that resemble the work of an enfeebled and possibly drunken Charles Schulz, icicles sucked to a deadly point then bitten off and chewed up, sending shock waves to my mercury laden fillings, and always the conveyor belt repetitiveness of sledding – up the hill, down the hill, up the hill, down the hill…Time is a blur and soon purple shadows overtake the glaring sun as it sinks.
So, it’s indoors to be met with the pricking of heat on ruddy, chapped skin and the smell of wet wool as frozen mittens and hats steam on radiators. The line of red rubber boots puddles by the front door, as I struggle with my ice embedded zipper which catches on the fabric, sending my impatient self into a rage as I realize I need to pee – now! My father, master of the bunched zipper, sets down his cocktail and comes to the rescue. Mere seconds later I am shuffling into the bathroom, the defeated snow pants shackled around my ankles, damp now only from the snow.
Leading this parade of winter memories, the grand marshal if you will, twirling its frozen baton, is the one pictured in the card above – ice skating on the canal behind our house. According to my dad, three nights of deep freeze was the requirement for a safe thickness and we soon learned to spot all the places that were weak because of too much sun or maybe an underground spring – you could tell by the color and texture of the ice, and where inevitably, some neighbor’s dog would fall through to be rescued by my cursing father, as we looked on with the tense, distraught faces of children auditioning for Lassie Come Home.
We were all pretty proficient skaters. I didn’t progress much beyond the figure eight, but Aggie took her skating seriously and was quite good. Rada and Julie were also lovely and graceful with the added bonus of professional grade, ice skating boyfriends and access to Baker Rink at Princeton University. But a stuffy rink was no match for our frozen canal.
My father had set up a spotlight on the railing of the widow’s walk, which lit up a small portion of the ice below, and then…get this…he wired a speaker from the living room stereo out onto the canal bank, so we could skate to music, thereby satisfying our Ice Capades fantasies both day and night. I remember…was it Rada or Julie teaching me to ice dance by gripping both my wrists really hard and skating towards me really fast, forcing me backwards, blind and breathless, as the sleigh bells, whinnies and whip cracking of the Ray Conniff Singers choreographed the falling on my ass.
Looking at Kugie’s beautifully rendered cartoon makes me ache for all of it – the bruised knees, the throbbing ankles, the cornball music, gloves stiff with ice and frozen snot, the silly tremolo of intoning one note over bumpy ice. And that singular day after an ice storm, when I was about fourteen and went behind the canal to the swamp to skate alone through this otherworldly blaze of trees, sheathed in ice, feeling both exhilarated and melancholy. Squinting hard against refracted sunlight, I skated faster and faster, away from a growing awareness that here was a moment in time that would never be replicated – a hidden landscape inside a sugared egg that I was getting too old to believe was real.
Half of the people in this Christmas card are gone – over half if you include the dog and the artist. And by all accounts, the score will only worsen as time goes by. So, I drag myself out of the sinkhole of nostalgia, grabbing onto the hands (and hand sanitizer) of those I cherish, whose warm hearts are still beating and think of the words of not Marx, but Lennon, – “All you need is love” – well, that and enough cash to pay the damn bills. May your year be filled with both!
HAPPY HOLIDAYS 2020
Now please, get up and dance…or skate!
Read more about the artist; Fulper designer J.O.W. Kugler in Still Life With Kugie, published in the Spring 2020 edition of the Journal of the American Art Pottery Association and reprinted here with their permission.