“Do not wear your skates down the stairs!”
This was a common directive lobbed at my back as I dashed down the steps from our third floor apartment each day to explore my world on wheels. As per my mother’s request, I would dutifully sit on the bottom step closest to the sidewalk at the entrance to my building and step into my skates. In those days we had the types of roller skates that strapped on over shoes. They were adjustable and tinny sounding and unstable and I refused to go anywhere without them.
There was a sidewalk in front of our apartment building that ended where a small sloping hill up began. This stretch of concrete is where the majority of my rolling would take place, avoiding chips and rocks and those pesky cracks that threatened to break my mother’s back were I to step on one. It was a limited track but freeing all the same.
It would be so much more fun with a change in terrain. You know, a hill.
Then one day, as if the roller gods had heard my pleas, tanned and muscled men were clearing a wide swath of grass to make room for a sidewalk expansion where our narrow trodden path up that hill at the end of the sidewalk once was. This was exciting indeed.
On the playground, across the street from this noisy and smelly work, my best friend Teri and I watched the progress from the swings. We speculated, as only seven year olds can, on what new and exciting promise this extension would provide. We imagined speeding down the hill and all the way to end of the sidewalk without lifting a wheeled foot. Maybe even floating. Or flying. Kids with bikes and trikes could race each other from the top.
We stopped to consider other scenarios as we took to the hot metal slide. Maybe all of us could be tied to a bike, you know to hold onto it like water skiing, that would start at the top of the hill…
Then one day the hill was complete. Sort of.
This newly flattened surface was made of tar and not concrete. It didn’t match the sidewalk. Not only was it pavement, but it was also bumpy and uneven. Yet, it still provided ample opportunity for experimentation with roller skates and bicycles and anything with wheels that previously struggled on the dirt and grass. It was the new shiny thing in the neighborhood and kids from all over showed up to test it out.
I started out carefully enough, side stepping up the grassy part of the hill in my skates a few feet before testing out the pavement. The first test yielding decent results: not smooth, but not awful either. The unevenness of the pavement slowed me down just enough to give me a false sense of confidence. I walked up higher in the grass and stepped onto the pavement and rolled down. Still okay. Bumpy and slow, but rolling. Then I got cocky and careless, marching to the very top of the hill in the grass and stepping onto the top of this glorious black hill like an Olympic skiier ready to compete for gold. Half way down this short hill my skate caught on something, I over corrected, arms windmilling, feet defying gravity, limbs flying in unnatural directions and despite the Herculean effort to save myself, I landed face down on the gravely pavement and skidded to a stop, shredding the tender flesh from my face and hands. The force was strong enough to produce the appropriate amount of blood to freak my mother out (sort of, she was pretty pro at wet towels and ice packs for my curiosity-gone-south by now) and leave me with a giant scab in the form of a question mark. On my face. Forehead, cheek, nose and chin. My hands were mostly just raw and tender.
Once my mother mopped up the blood, patted dry my raw and stinging face, and wiped away my tears, I pleaded to go back out. But my mother, ever the voice of reason, hung my skates up for a few days to protect me from myself.
These skates were a natural appendage. This was not a horse I was afraid to ride again. It was not the fault of the skates, but clearly the new hill. However, in my juvenile lust for wind in my hair, I would master that little bit of pavement and seek even bigger adventures.
With age and experience, like at 8 years old, I began to make more discerning choices. I did not, for instance, skate down the slide. I walked up the ladder leading to the slide in skates, hovered on the little platform at the top, considered the consequences of flight, and possible death, by parental shaming – not necessarily bodily harm due to the velocity at which I would be traveling that short stretch – and sat on the slide instead with the wheels touching the slide in font of me, rather than tucked under me as I so desperately longed to do. It was a compromise. It felt like I was kind of rolling.
I did however swing with the skates on. Seems harmless, right? However, I really liked to hang upside down and wrap my legs around the chains of the swing holding me in place, while I let my arms and hair drag along the ground. On this particular day, a day like any other, with the exception of the skates on my feet, I miscalculated the force with which I had to hoist my wheeled feet up to throw myself upside down, and instead kept going on through. The weight of the skates created the perfect conditions for another face plant. In the gravel. Home I went for a quick patch job, then back out. Sans skates.
In the summer I would skate in shorts and a tank top – mostly Danskin sets. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, Google it. These were required of every young kid in the late 60’s and early 70’s. At the height of the Polyester awakening, we the children, endured plastic clothing sets because they were virtually indestructible and wrinkle-free.) It was an invitation to shred the bare skin off my bones repeatedly, especially my knees and occasionally an elbow, and of course, sometimes my face. But I was undeterred. Those eight wheels were freedom, like flying. And if the scrape didn’t take my breath away and make me feel like I was going to cry, I waited to share it with my mother, should she decide I had had enough.
The skates were my parents answer to a bicycle. We were on the third floor and schlepping a bike down all those steps sounded like a chore to them and an impossible task for me, so I traveled on 8 wheels instead of two. The bike would have to wait until we lived less densely and closer to the earth.
How fun would it be to ride a bike in skates?!