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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Henningsen: Good Ice

I have fond memories of skating parties on local ponds when I was growing up. The crisp air, bright sunshine reflecting off the ice, the back-and-forth scuffle of a pick-up hockey game, the meditative swishes of solitary artists carving figure-eights on a glistening surface, the warmth of a bonfire and a hot cup of cocoa. I loved everything about it.

Except actually skating.

I was a terrible skater. Weak ankles and a truly dreadful sense of balance condemned me to wobbling from one place to another. Because I was rarely upright for more than a minute or so at a time, I never learned how to stop properly, which meant that I became expert at stopping by running into things - the shoreline, my siblings, random strangers – or, usually, just falling down.

I wanted to be good. I tried. I took lessons. I dreamed. I’m reminded of a former student – goalie on the womens’ varsity hockey team – who once told me that even though she came onto the ice loaded down with pads, mask, and helmet, inside she always felt like figure-skating icon Michelle Kwan. I longed to feel that way, but that would never happen. To see me on the ice was to be reminded of the dancing hippos in Disney’s Fantasia, only they were more graceful. In 1963, when I was thirteen, I gave it up.

But when an opportunity to try it again appeared, I couldn’t say no.

I’d volunteered to help out at the Upper Valley Trails Alliance’s annual skate-a-thon in Fairlee where, after several hours of helping people get rental skates, I was entitled to a pair of my own for ninety minutes. Well, why not?

I’d like to draw a dignified veil over subsequent events, but journalistic ethics require the truth. Witnesses will recall that, on the Sunday of King Day Weekend, Lake Morey looked like a Brueghel painting. Dozens of skaters elegantly waltzed the perimeter trail, regularly passing what looked from a distance like one of those Hindu dancing gods with eight arms and legs. That was me, trying to stay upright.

People were kind, passing me in diplomatic silence or shouting encouraging things like “The ice gets better.” Clearly, it wasn’t the ice.

I didn’t fall, unless you count going into a four point crouch as falling, but that’s about the extent of my success. It was a lesson in humility, though I took some comfort in thinking that part of my volunteer work that day was making everyone else feel like terrific skaters.

They say it’s never too late – though in this case, I’ve sadly concluded that it was always too late.

Still, there’s no harm in trying, once every half century, to see if that’s still true.

Vic Henningsen is a teacher and historian.
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