A Chapter by Laura

My great grandfather Follett owned Skateland in El Paso, so I spent my first eight years essentially on wheels.  According to family legend, one day when the rink was closed, mom strapped those plastic child skates to my feet and took me out to the middle of the wood floor, set me down, then walked away.  I fell, I cried, I screamed, I crawled.  Mom would pick me up and put me back in the middle.  “If you want off this floor, you skate off.”  And eventually I did.


My mother was married five times before I was twelve.  Sometime during each of those marriages, there came a point where I went to visit grandma and didn’t go home for sometimes years.  As my Aunt Toni is only four years older, we pretty much grew up together.


I idolized Toni, she was perfect in my eyes, smart and talented and kind to everyone, especially a pest of a niece.  She was a shining example of who I wanted to be.  As the baby of three teenage sisters, she was automatically adored and spoiled, but her own shining energy didn’t include one iota of arrogance.  Friends and strangers were drawn to her equally, she has one of those personalities that almost everyone connects with somehow.  Rarely without a smile and a kind word, when you finally have to turn away, you feel a little lighter, a little more confident, a little more ready. 


Toni loved to skate, so Grandpa Follett bought a skating rink.  Except for school, we lived at the rink practically from open to close.  Every year, we would get three new pair of skates, dance for Christmas, figure for Easter, and free-style for birthdays.  Glossy, supple white boots on top of pristine blades, gleaming toe-stops and freshly oiled ball bearing wheels, custom made to feel like an extension of our feet.  


Toni was a symphony on skates, queen of the dance.  Tango, march, waltz, free-style, whether solo or partnered, she won or ranked high in every competition.  Figure skating now is what was called free-style back in the day.  Figure skating was actually following a figure eight painted on the floor while executing sudden backward and forward turns in specific positions around the figure, all while making it look like you’re a swan enjoying your morning glide.  And Toni was a swan.


My skates rarely left my feet, and only then with protest.  But I wasn’t very good at dance or figure, too much concentration was needed and I just wanted to move.  My favorites were free-style, speed skating and the limbo.  I was the queen of the limbo, an elastic pretzel.


Most skate competitions held in El Paso were held at Skateland, and it was mandatory that we enter all of them, as we represented the rink.  Great Grandma Follett and Grandma LaBeff sewed elaborate skate costumes for our competitions, spending days hand stitching sequins and beads into flourishes and patterns meant to enhance the mood of our performances.


I was a big disappointment, earning only a few pins and ribbons, enough to fill the front of a stuffed Casper, which I’ve long lost.  Toni was the superstar, rarely ranking less than third in anything.  My grandparents converted their two car garage into a family room, and two entire walls, from floor to ceiling, were filled with Toni’s dance and figure trophies, medals and ribbons.  She was mesmerizing to watch, so graceful and expressive, like a ballet dancer on wheels.


When I wasn’t skating or watching Toni, I was working the rink.  Passing out skates, tightening and oiling wheels, working the snack bar, mopping up spills, you name it, all with my skates on.  I remember downing Suicides, a mixture of all of the sodas, while munching snack cakes for quick energy.  Then I was back on the floor, ready to go.


All of our birthday parties were held there.  Grandma made homemade shaped cakes before there were pans to do that.  I remember many doll cakes, one of my favorites, with the Barbie doll decked out in her ball gown of delicately shaped roses, bare shoulders peeking out of frosting.  Parasol and rose hat of spun sugar.  And under all of that beautifully detailed artwork, the most delicious, moist homemade chocolate cake you could ever hope to lay on your tongue.


Somewhere around eight or so, I started getting more interested in the cool new pinball machines with all their flashing lights and cool sounds and so much for my eyes to see.  Mom quit taking me to the rink after that except for practices.  A few months later, mom and I moved into the apartment attached to the rink, so I was back on my skates full-time.  Well, until I started the fire.


Ironically, my mom was the only one who couldn’t skate.  She knew how to skate, she could stay on her feet mostly, but two separate times, years apart, she did a chaise by the blue doors, fell and broke the same ankle, and has never been on skates since, nor has her ankle ever been the same.


My mother finally got it right on marriage number five, and for my 40th birthday, she made me a doll cake and brought it up to my office.  It was so beautiful, I almost cried.  Until dad followed with black Over-the-Hill balloons and suckers.

© 2010 Laura

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Added on April 13, 2010
Last Updated on April 15, 2010
Tags: memories



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