Childhood Tracings

Indelible Tracings, a new book, memorializes the United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) team that was killed on a plane over Brussels in 1961, en route to the Worlds in Prague, as recounted in Obit magazine. The plane crashed 50 years ago today (February 17), and a prize winning documentary, The Rise, will be shown in some area theaters tonight only. Click here for details.

It brought back memories of my childhood figure skating days at the Ice Club of Baltimore in Carlin’s Ice Rink, where my sister and I trained three times a week to pass USFSA figure and dance tests. The USFSA was so small then that when we passed a test, even ordinary skaters like us, had their names printed (albeit fine print) in the USFSA bulletin. I have three such bulletins sitting in my dining room, marked by my mother (“See p. 36”) while I try to decide what to do with them. (Tear out the pages? Scan them? Leave them for my children to toss? Toss them now? Does anyone reading this want them?)

For the record, page 36 in June 1953 says that age 13 I passed my Bronze dance test, including the Fiesta Tango. I remember the judge’s name: Madeline Skirven. It doesn’t say who my partner was. Nicky Royal was my favorite partner — Billy Ridenhour was a little shaky and there was an older gentleman who was so shaky that it was scary to dance with him. (Note to grandchildren: even today I remember these details, and the details of your life will stay with you too!)

In earlier tests (May 1951) I passed the Predance. That one’s pretty easy. I can still do the Dutch waltz, even in my dotage, all forward movement.

In May, 1950, I passed the preliminary figure test, representing hours and hours of “patch” skating that I wouldn’t trade for the world. In patch skating, every move you make leaves a trace. You know absolutely for sure whether you did it right, and then you try to do it better the next time. I believe it was a huge mistake to take patch skating out of competitions, and as a result, few skaters do it. In my opinion that’s like saying ballet dancers don’t need to do a barre.

My sister and I started skating when I was three and she was five. My mother made our outfits as shown in the photo. These were reversible — blue wool on one side, red satin on the reverse. Our hats, which she made from chenille, had little pads in the back though we did soon learn to fall forward.

There weren’t many child skaters then, and we were quite a wow at our first club show. We did a “pair” number that consisted of us putting together everything we had figured out to do. As I remember, my contribution included a two-footed wibble wobble down the center line.

What did 12 years of skating bring to me, aside from knowing how to lace my grandkids’ skates?

Family time: The chance to participate in an activity with my ever busy father. My mother figured out that it was a good bonding activity for the four of us, and it gave both of them a rare chance to exercise. They developed friendships at the club and did the Dutch Waltz.

Persistence: The opportunity to work hard and be judged on whether I passed the test.

Exhilaration: The chance to skate free and fast, round and round, on an uncrowded rink. I’m spoiled for public skating forever.

A tolerance of cold temperatures, especially when bolstered by hot chocolate.

It’s a puzzle to me why I didn’t join Princeton Skating Club when we moved here. It focuses on ice dancing but it was expensive to join, and you couldn’t just come and skate. Since then, Iceland has been built, but now I can’t find my skates.

One result from the plane crash that wiped out all the skating stars: Money was raised to quickly bring the next generation to competition level, and it helped to fund the training of my all-time favorite, Peggy Fleming. She attributes her meteoric raise, according to the book, partly due to the extra training funds, but also to the vacuum at the top.

Dick Button wasn’t on the plane; his picture is on one of the Skating magazine covers and he is, of course, featured in the documentary. Perhaps the names of those who died are in those magazines in small type, along with my name. Those young skaters would have been the right age, in 1961, to be champions.

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