I took the entire staff ice-skating today. I made the decision in a burst of holiday joy but decided I needed to follow through once the time came. It has been extra formidable outside and we had begun resembling caged rats in this place. It looked like battle lines were being drawn so I thought a “family” outing was in order.
I remember following my mother and sisters to skate on the local pond every winter. Dressed in our snuggly finest, we took to the ice in the way that young children who think they can fly do. Long after our cheeks turned pink and our lashes stuck together from ice, our mother had to use her stern voice to wrest us from the ice. Our gloves, wet from multiple falls, no longer performed their task of keeping our fingers toasty. When we finally, begrudgingly, left the ice, we would huddle together in the neighboring café, drinking hot cocoa and giggling until we could no longer speak. It was the only time my mother let us make such spectacles of ourselves. Mother, having come from a proper household herself, pretended to be put off by our behavior but the glint of nostalgia in her eye told a different story.
So today it was not 4 little girls in matching coats and fur trimmed gloves, it was a motley crew of adults whose common bond is where they call home. We paraded to the rink in the center of town; an empty lot transformed and roped off for this seasonal treat. A large fire pit burned of to the side with reclaimed beach chairs, each with their own blankets. The man who rents the skates looked haggard and ready to leave, having only been working an hour when we arrived. The sweet lady that owns the bakery specializing in cupcakes passed out complimentary hot apple cider; you could smell the cinnamon from across the yard. I breathed in the scene – the spices, the melting snow, the heat of the collective breath – all of it felt familiar.
Strapping on our skates, we took to the ice as a troop rushing the front. Many of the younger members of my staff gracefully zipped about as if they had been born with skates on. Some of us, ahem, elder members of the household didn’t fare quiet as well. Mrs. Walters had been the hardest to cajole on to the ice and once there, she stood resolute in skates as her ankles quaked. Clarice tried to keep her company but Mrs. Walters dismissed her, claiming she didn’t need to be babysat. Eventually Chef, who was surprising agile on the ice, snuck up behind Mrs. Walters and pushed her from behind. Mrs. Walters, arms flailing in the air, let out such a wail it sent three of us straight on our derrieres. Mrs. Walters’ bellowing to halt her abduction only fueled Chef to keep pushing as innocent skaters cleared a path leaping to safety. At this point, Mrs. Walters surrendered, shut her eyes and put her hands out in front. Chef, in yet another ill-advised move, looked behind her to call out, “She’s having fun now, I tell you!” Unfortunately, no one saw Mr. Brown. He had been chatting up the pretty little seamstress from the tailor shop who collects suitors like spools of thread. Chef and Mrs. Walters ran smack into him, sending Chef to the floor, Mrs. Walters to the railing and poor Mr. Brown right over the edge. The seamstress screeched and ran, I’m not sure why she thought she would be implicated. When the commotion settled, the trio was left to assess their present situation; Mrs. Walters bent unladylike over a rail, Chef splayed upon the ice and Mr. Brown practically upside down in a snowdrift. Clarice yelled indiscriminately from the sidelines, completely incapable of determining to whose side she should rush. The staff rallied and righted everyone back on their feet while I tried to remember my reasoning for leaving the flask home.
Mrs. Walters was mildly dazed and definitely not speaking to Chef who was chasing after her begging forgiveness. Mr. Brown, who had had quite enough of various staff members trying to dust him off, shooed them away and sought to replace his fallen his bowler. Unfortunately, there was a proper chestnut forming on his pate, which caused him to rest his hat at a rather odd angle. The poorly placed hat and alternating streaks of snow and dirt on his outfit gave the usually very refined Mr. Brown the appearance of the town drunk.
When all nerves had settled, we assembled around the fire pit, blankets across our laps and hot cocoa in our hands. Our breath mingled with the steam from our chocolate as we sat in silence trying to regain feeling in our frozen toes. I don’t know who giggled first but it spread like a message traveling along a wire, everyone trying not to glance at Mr. Brown or Mrs. Walters. Eventually we all admitted defeat, including the quarries. We laughed until we could no longer speak and in that moment, I was a little girl again enjoying the kind of moment only Christmas can promise.
Happy Holidays, darlings. May your days be cheerful and your falls be spectacular.