One of my favorite Christmas memories is the year a white Christmas turned black.
It all started out on Christmas Eve day in Reese Park, a square-block sized park plunked in the middle of our Chicago neighborhood. I tagged along with my two older brothers to go ice skating in the park that was flooded each year to create a sort of ice rink. While my brothers played hockey, I was left to work out the rudiments of ice skating on my own. Being only five or so years old, that wasn’t easy.
What made it particularly difficult was that my ice skates were way too big for me. The “He’ll grow into it” philosophy was indelibly imprinted into our family’s culture and probably dated back to the Stone Age, when my Italian forbears passed loin cloths down to their children and then to their children’s children. In the present day epoch, circa 1950s, my ice skates, like all my clothes, descended from my brothers or even my cousins before that.
The provenance of my ice skates was something of a mystery. Clearly, though, they had seen better days. Many of the clothes I wore could be described as thread bare. My ice skates could be similarly described as leather bare.
As I circled the Reese Park ice rink, what proved a problem wasn’t so much the advanced age of my skates but rather their size. They were so loose on my feet that my ankles were twisted to their sides. I remember the pronation being so extreme that I skated more on the leather than on the blades.
Although my spirit was willing, my young ankles weren’t. So after only a few wobbling circles of the rink, I gave up on skating. I plopped down on a park bench and pulled off my skates without having to untie them. Turning my attention to my brothers’ hockey game, I noticed a man walking toward me with a pair of white ice skates dangling from his hand. “Hey, kid, he said, do you want these skates? I’m giving my daughter a new pair for Christmas. Do you have a sister you can give these to?”