New ice skates—and a J-cloth Joseph

“The need not to look foolish is one of youth’s many burdens. As we get older, we are exempted from more and more and float upward in our heedlessness.”
Okay, there’s one more thing I know for sure.
If American novelist John Updike had spotted my failing attempts to stay upright on the ice on Saturday, he would have rewritten that quote.
However, I was as a horse drawn to water after pacing along the bank overlooking a smooth, shiny ice rink on the creek below the house—just like the one I remembered as a kid—that Pete had shovelled off during his last stint home.
And when Daughter #3 donned skates and started doing ice time instead of computer time, it was a no brainer that her mother should take a turn or two.
But what part of “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” did I not understand when I imagined that my 46-year-old body would flex out of more than two decades of ice rink hibernation and into a pair of skates?
And why, for the love of Pete, did I think a picture of Canadian Olympic duo Jamie Salé and David Pelletier splashed all over the box containing the new pair of the suicide shoes meant that I could grace the ice surface like they do?
Granted, my youthful memory of skating corresponded with another historical balancing act (“once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget”), but the “oblivious” side of me didn’t take into account that I am fatter and creak more than I did when I was 12.
And even though I was below the visual field of both passing cars and neighbours, I’m sure that from the moment I set skates on the ice, every nearby muskrat and mouse feared for their lives at the sight of a wintery hulk with arms and legs thrashing windmills in the air—slipping and sliding like a yo-yo across the rink.
I couldn’t even try and stop myself if I wanted to. I’d had the toe picks on each skate ground off at the hardware store because I thought it would make me trip.
Way to go, Mrs. Know-It-All!
In what seemed like minutes (yet likely took a matter of seconds), gravity won and I lay prone staring at stars in the middle of the afternoon sky—two dogs licking my face and jumping all over me in the belief I’d finally come down to their level to play.
It was all I could do to peel my now 90-year-old skeleton off the ice and “bum” it back to the spot where I’d left my boots; that I might ditch this youthful burden of looking foolish and go get warmed up in the house with a hot toddy.
Of course, in my neck of the woods, going indoors is never that simple.
The furnace had given up for dead sometime over the course of the afternoon, as noted when I walked in and all the moisture on the little hairs above my upper lip froze into a white frost.
I could feel the incessant flat stare from 800 km away as Pete read my e-mail telling him of the next mechanical conundrum of the farmhouse (But at least I was ahead of the game this time. Before I e-mailed him, I’d checked for a panel above the furnace for blown fuses).
With day saved by the furnace man, farmhouse life got back to more important things on the verge of Christmas— like who would replace St. Joseph in the traditional manger scene that sat under the tree?
Earlier in the summer, the small ceramic statue had been unpacked from the Christmas decorations, turned upside down, and buried—complete with Sunday prayers and blessings—at the northwest corner of a house we wanted to sell.
The patron saint of home and family is well-known for his help in real estate success stories. I can vouch for that. The first time we tried selling a house, I buried a statue of St. Joseph made out of corn husk, which otherwise didn’t belong to a manger scene, and he was left in the ground in Crozier.
However, this time it was different and I’d fully intended to reclaim the manger scene saint just prior to closing the house sale.
Suffice it to say, in all the hustle and bustle of packing and moving to the farm, St. Joseph was left behind (in hindsight I expect his job is to watch over the new owners in their wonderful life to come).
But the manger family was still one short here at our house.
I taught Sunday School in the early 1990s, and along with the youngsters in my class had made a figure of Jesus out of a green J-cloth. He was a folded and wrapped, soft figurine with a hooded robe.
Every Christmas since then, the faceless man has sat in my Christmas tree amongst the branches.
As I sat in the living room on the weekend with my hot toddy, nursing my skate-a-thon blues and staring blankly at the empty spot in the manger where Joseph had been, I thought about the late Patrick Playfair, who had ministered at Knox United Church here.
By 1996, as a member of the Knox congregation, I’d become “truant” from church services. My well-meaning grandmother had pointed this out to Patrick while the three of us were chatting one day 10 years ago.
Patrick turned to me and said “That’s okay, I’ve been going for you.” It was one of the most profound statements anyone had ever said to me.
So I reckon it’s okay if a well-meaning substitute is made as the little faceless figurine who spent all those Christmases sitting on the branch of the Christmas tree takes on a new role as “J-cloth Joseph.”
After all, it’s what one does for family that counts.
Merry Christmas everybody.

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