February 29, 2008

Kay Dee: Guest

My friend Kay Dee sent me the following narrative in response to "In Love," which you can read after you read this (or before--just toodle on down to the next posting).

Kay Dee's snort-through-your-nose and split-your-gut narrative of her own skiing experience is so funny I just had to ask if others could read it. You can't help but enjoy my friend.

My Skiing Career
by Kay Dee Powell

Before we married, Bud used to drive ski buses in Colorado, so he skied every winter. We didn’t have a flake of snow in south Texas, but I used to be fairly proficient at water skiing as a kid, so I figured snow skiing would be rather similar. Our first opportunity to go skiing was about a year after we were married.

Bud had all the equipment, but I had to rent skis, boots, and poles. I didn’t have ski pants, so I scotch guarded some red knit pants to wear. My only real investment was a pair of thick red wool socks. I hate to have cold feet, so I splurged. I don’t remember the cost of the lift tickets or baby sitting. We didn’t have much extra money, so our ski trip was quite an extravagance for us.

We headed for Dodge Ridge in the Sierras. I was plenty nervous, but Bud assured me it was easy and fun. He said it was important to get my boots tight, so he laced mine so tight I could hardly walk. That was supposed to be good for my ankles. He then got me on my skis, pointed me toward the bunny slope, and that’s the last I saw of him.

I didn’t have the vaguest idea what to do, so I watched the other beginners. They got their skis uncrossed and grabbed the rope tow. I fell a few times trying to get to it, but I finally managed to hang on. Up, up we went to the top of the bunny hill. Then what? I hadn’t figured out how to walk in those darned long skis yet. I released the rope tow and took about two steps. Then down I went, backwards, ending in a pile of snow. Eventually I tumbled, fell, and skied backwards down the slope. The next trip had the same results. Every time I tried to “walk” my skis around, I only got half-way, and down I went. The third time I managed to fall on the other side of the rope tow, so I tried to step over the rope to get back. Straddling the rope, I saw a bunch of skiers holding the rope, heading toward me. “Get her out of here!” I heard one say, just before they all plowed into me like dominoes.

I actually got my skis pointed in the right direction once or twice and went like a bat out of hell for a short time before I fell on my fanny and slid the rest of the way in that position. After several other equally unsuccessful attempts at skiing down the beginner’s hill I was soaking wet, frozen, and my ankles were killing me. I thought to myself, “Who said skiing was fun?”

I took off my skis and limped toward the lodge where I sat shivering and alone at a table, sipping hot chocolate. I overheard some ski bums talking at the next table. “Hey did you see that girl in the red pants who kept skiing down the hill backwards?” They had a good laugh while I slunk lower in my chair and decided the torture wasn’t worth it; I was through for the day. I loosened the shoestrings on my boots and took them off. Bud had laced them so tightly that they actually wore a hole through the tops of my thick red socks. And you should have seen my ankles. They were swollen and already starting to bruise!

Bud eventually returned after a fabulous day of skiing. When I told him my tale of woe, he said the best thing for me was to come again the next week. Get back on that horse, you know. Oh joy…it was like looking forward to my own hanging.

I hobbled around on my swollen ankles all week, dreading the next weekend. More money, more pain and misery…when would the sport and enjoyment begin? We drove back to the same spot the next weekend, and wonder of wonders, there were no skis left to rent! I took this as a definite sign from God and thanked Him from my heart. I retired from skiing that day, and I never looked back. Thus endeth my skiing career.


In Love

I'm in love. I was forty when I learned how to ski. Well, okay, thirty-nine, but my friend Peter—who knew I was depressed about turning forty come spring—suggested I think of myself as being forty when I was still thirty-nine. That way, I wouldn’t be in for such a shock when May rolled around. So I was forty for about two years—and in that space of time Peter taught me how to ski.

You don’t become Olympic material when you’re such a late bloomer, but you do get just enough know-how to waltz your way down the easy slopes with nothing but silence and snow. This is elixir for at least my soul. What is it about mountain peaks, powder, blue skies, and sunlight glimmering off turquoise glaciers that stops the frenetic absurdities of the brain? For me, a woman who lives inside her head, the relief is nothing short of a miracle. I escape myself.

This year I treated myself to new skis, long overdue
; and in January my youngest son and I went up for an afternoon trial run. Me to test my skis and knees, he to “limber up.” He'd converted to boarding a long time ago—anyone under the age of 35 up here does. Mt. Baker is the world’s snowboard capital and skiers don’t go up on weekends if they can help it because we’re liable to become someone’s baloney sandwiched between two boards--hopefully without the ketchup. So Blake and I went up on a Friday.

I do have a bit of a problem. Ever since my last car accident , I have little strength in my hands, so it’s difficult, if not impossible sometimes, for me to buckle on and tighten up my ski boots. This proved to be an “impossible” day and so Blake had to help me out. With people milling around us or clumping on by, he got down on one knee to manhandle my boot buckles and knobs, and I flash-backed to Laurentian Lodge--a delightful memory of my father tying on my skates. The winter I was ten we lived at a ski lodge in the Laurentian mountains of French Canada (no, I did not learn to ski then, but I also lived at a horse ranch the summer I was ten and did not learn to ride horses). Back to the lodge. I loved the sensation of Dad tugging on my feet, my foot bouncing up and down a little as he pulled up hard on each lace, working his way up my ankles until at last he did the bow and gave me a smile. I loved the sense of being taken care of, of being loved, of my feet being tucked in snug and tight. Life is good in such moments—time a blur, your dead father and your twenty-seven-year-old son simultaneously wanting to give me a good time.

Blake babysat me for a few runs until I got my “ski legs.” He then toodled up Chair 8 to the summit and over to the Canyon. I stuck with Chair 7 and fell in love with my skis. We went home aching head to toe but satiated with happy exhaustion.

This month Blake’s girlfriend Beth treated all three of us to a day on the mountain, the finest in history. I’ve never seen Baker so beautiful. I managed to get my boots on all by myself, and only had to get Blake to tighten the knobs a few ratchets. Ach, but my first run down I spun around and toppled over backward on the slope coming down into the ski lift basin.

Try as I might, I could not get those lovely skis back on. There I was, balancing on one leg, slapping the snow off the boot of the other, placing my foot just so when…. slip, the ski slip-slid away from me. Over and over. And over. It’s a little humiliating to be in such a fix in plain sight of all. I was doing my best, though, to get my ski back on and block out the humiliation when what should silently appear but a snowboard boot, toe edging up against my ski to keep it from angling off. I looked up. Blake. He’d tromped up the hill to rescue me. He did not say, “You’re embarrassing me down there.” He just gave me a smile that went to his eyes and said, “Try angling your heel more.” Life doesn’t get better.

I’m in love with my skis, my son, my dad, and the snow and silence that envelopes me when I slide off the brand new chair lifts at Baker and waltz down the slope, detouring over to the “armpit” and heading up chair 4 to the “dead tree” run that ain’t dead anymore but alive with new green growth and wearing scarves of lamb's wool snow to keep itself warm.

I slide on by, thrilled with my skis cutting the snow, turning on a wish--delightfully warm in a space of time, mind and soul free.

Blake and me at Sunshine, just outside Banff, AB
Thanksgiving to New Year's, 1999

There is a sad ending to my story. Blake broke his foot last week playing soccer and won't be on the slopes any time soon. I'm on my own, which isn't a bad thing. But I'm sad Blake can't toodle up Chair 8 and then meet me in the lounge for a chocolate chip cookie dunked in hot chocolate. C'est la vie. Oui?

February 13, 2008

Joe and His Chocolate Cordial

I shall never think of Valentine’s Day again without thinking of Joe and chocolate cordials. Not that anyone named Joe ever gave me a chocolate cordial for Valentine’s Day but, because they’re a favorite of mine, my mind I guess informally equates them with the holiday. So to wish everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d tell you about Joe and his chocolate cordial.

It was twilight hour at the C Shop, the night dark, the indoor lighting that odd sort of yellow that makes you look as tired as you are. The front windows no longer let us see outside but had become black mirrors, caging us in with weary facsimiles of ourselves. Beyond the C Shop, thin peals of laughter bled into the night as the last of our customers took their ice cream cones and headed up the beach for their campgrounds or cottages or million-dollar condos. A breeze, carrying autumn’s first chill, sifted though the open doors. It was just me and Rochelle and Joe inside, watching the clock, beginning the routine of cleaning up before closing. I was outside the counter, sweeping up Jelly Bellys and straightening the saltwater taffy, more than ready to go home. The work was hard for someone my age and, yes, I confess, I took home a cup or so of free ice cream that had fallen to the bottom of the freezer so I could eat it while soaking out the stiffness in my hot tub overlooking the far side of the bay.

For those of you who don’t know, the C Shop is a candy shop and cafĂ© at Birch Bay, WA, right off the beach and full of memories for summer visitors who now bring their kids to fill ‘em up on the Jelly Bellys and popcorn and Patricia’s famous “peanut butter yums,” her “dreams,” and truffles. “I used to come here where I was a little girl!” they’d say, themselves looking like children.

This particular night I’d been working the “candy side” all summer with about ten or fifteen teenagers, scooping the ice cream and developing biceps like Popeye, using my breaks to have a sit on the beach with a free snow cone unmercifully drowned in homemade syrup. I got on with the kids; they let me pretend I was seventeen again, and I don’t think the forty-year-age difference ever came up, which suited me fine. And Joe, seventeen years old, cute as they come, was my favorite,
a likable young guy who easily blushed and more often than not made me wish I was seventeen again.

“Hey!” he said that night from the other side of the antique counter. “I dropped a chocolate cordial, want it?”

“You know I do!” I tossed off the broom, held up my hands to catch.

“You don’t like ‘em?” Rochelle asked Joe.

“Na, I hate ‘em. It’s like—” I was just biting when he said it: “It’s like biting into a zit.”

I choked, sputtered, and spewed. The timing could not have been worse—or better if you were Joe. He went hysterical with glee, pounding the counter, giggling like girl. I was no better. Laughing, retching, hardly able to breathe, I staggered around like a drunk, spitting and gagging. Patrick, who owns the shop, came in from the porch—and for the first time since I’d known him he was unable to say a word. He simply stared in astonishment, at a loss to know what to think. We couldn’t help ourselves and the look on his face made it all the funnier. Patricia, who owns the shop too, came in from the kitchen. By now I was beating Joe in the chest and he and I and now
Rochelle were falling all over ourselves, wiping our eyes and laughing so hard our sides ached.

All Joe had to do the rest of the summer if he wanted to get a rise out of me was to say, “Hey, Brenda, want a chocolate cordial?” Or simply hold one up and grin.

I haven’t eaten one since. Can’t. Because Joe is right. Eating one is exactly like biting into a zit. And so on that happy note, Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!