Most people understand the basic rules about ice: Coaches teach hockey players to keep their sticks on the ice. People who live on lakes know that when the hues of water under the ice begin resembling summer colors to stay off of the ice. Ice fishermen allowing their fishing shanties to partially sink during weather warmups should rethink their hobby. Drivers quickly learn that black ice on roads can cause a carousel of spinning cars and trucks and swiftly bury them in snow-filled ditches. Signs remind us that bridges freeze before roads. Our mothers tell us early on to stop chewing ice or our teeth will start to look like craters on the moon. When we are older, wizened drinkers advise us to avoid ice when drinking red wine or scotch. A friend recently told me that ice cube balls are better than cubes in beverages, and bigger is better. I am ashamed to say that I did not know this rule, but I will abide by it as soon as I receive my new ice cube trays. Last week, I learned another new ice rule, and I feel the need to share this with the world: Do not be a giggling gallivanter strutting across wet sand on a beach along Lake Michigan in March. Wet sand sometimes masquerades as very, very slippery ice.
When I was much younger and discovering the rules of the world in Kansas, my mother often said to me, “You are walking on thin ice, young lady,” when I would inform her and my father of some new adventure I had decided I needed to embark on. After being told no, I often swore. Since my father had a habit of swearing, it’s something I grew up with, kind of like having our own secret language. My mom, famous for her downward-head-tilt and dagger-like-mom-glare, frequently warned me to watch my language. Rebuttal time existed in the confines of my room or down by the dam where I complained to my dog, the cottonwood trees, and the Arkansas River. Thin ice! Language usage! It was a lot to learn for a teenager who was mostly interested in music, dogs, and boys.
In western Kansas, we really didn’t have much ice other than the ice my mother made in silver ice cube trays to fuel our passion for very cold iced tea. If only my mom had known about ice cube balls, but maybe no one had invented them yet. When the irrigation ditch running parallel to the road in front of our house froze over one winter, I put on a pair of ill-fitting ice skates. I skated down towards the Wilroads Gardens Elementary School, about a half a mile away, on the skinniest ice rink in the world. This wasn’t the Netherlands, and I was no Gretel. Ice wasn’t really something I learned to negotiate.
At the age of 21, I left Kansas for California where I discovered earthquakes and traffic. I quickly learned that pulling out in front of oncoming traffic was a requirement if a person wanted to get anywhere. I moved to Michigan a few years later, and I learned an entirely new set of rules for winter driving. I landed a job with a construction company rebuilding the downtown fire station in Ann Arbor. We worked out of a trailer on-site, and I was the office manager which basically meant that I typed reports on an ancient blue typewriter, fielded phone calls for my boss, and listened to grown men swearing about everything from the weather to the ups and downs of the Michigan Wolverines. I was hired because my future boss asked me if I minded people swearing. Seriously. I told him I was perfect for the job, and I called my father that night to thank him for all the years he had prepared me for this decent-paying job.
I had lived in Michigan for a few weeks, when I got my first taste of a Michigan blizzard. Since the fire chief and my boss said that the weather was going to be bad, I decided to park my four-speed Toyota station wagon in a garage underground. As I left the garage that day, I started up the ramp, and my car slid right back down and into the spare tire on the back end of a pickup truck. The following “BOOM” provided me more attention than walking down the street in a mini-skirt. My next stop was at my new car insurance agency where the confused agent asked me to repeat the story about five times. Even after I showed him the blown out rear window, he still asked me for the umpteenth time how I managed to blow out the window and not cause any damage to the pickup truck. Didn’t he believe me? Did he want to go to the scene of the accident? I was freezing! He told me I ought to cover up the gaping hole in the back of my car until I got it fixed. No s*#t, Sherlock?
From then on, I realized that ice rules were strictly followed in Michigan. When playing hockey or ice skating, one should always have sharp blades, or a person might lose an edge and fall down. The Great Lakes freeze over some years, but people should only drive across them on snowmobiles along a tree-lined path if they don’t want to die. Inland lakes claim a few bodies, people, and vehicles, every year because someone drank too much red wine or scotch with incorrectly-sized ice and decided to go for a joy ride. Chewing ice is only allowed if someone is a patient in a hospital and not allowed to eat edible food. When driving on snow-covered roads, drive like a person with a brain and not a death wish. I suppose I should stay off of the ice, but since I live in Northern Michigan, I don’t have a choice.
So far this year, I have willingly placed myself on ice for a variety of reasons and I managed to injure myself each time. In December, as I cross-country skied in the woods, I hit a patch of ice. My rear end hit the ground like a meteor dropping from the sky without any media coverage or fanfare. After a few choice swear words for no one but myself, I thrust myself upright, and I skied off to search for someone to feel sorry for me. At Cross-Country Ski Headquarters, I walked to my car, loaded my gear, and waited for my son to arrive after his much longer and more difficult ski journey. He was fine. Me? My left elbow still vibrated (California-shake style), and my neck seemed to be bit more compact as if I were a bobble head doll stuck in an awkward position.
In February, my son played in a pond hockey tournament in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Near the downtown of St. Ignace, I ventured out onto East Moran Bay (Lake Huron) to watch his team play hockey and shoot photographs. After trying a variety of footwear the day before, ice clamps on my tennis shoes and snow boots, I decided on my brand new boots with special technology geared just for walking on ice. I quickly learned that if snow fills in the spaces between all of this “special technology,” then I could perform a combination of those wild sixties dance moves, the mashed potato, the jerk, and the pony, all at once. My spectacular landing didn’t really hurt, because I had three layers of clothing on. I managed to save my camera, swear in front of a group of small children (What boots were THEY wearing?), and, along with my husband in his regular winter shoes, to watch the game and shoot pictures without further incident.
Having survived February mostly unscathed, I decided to go on an adventure with my photography pals, Sandi and Jo. I felt confident about starting out at Esch Beach, south of Empire and near Sleeping Bear Dunes along Lake Michigan. We had already stopped along our route to shoot pictures of sheep and eagles (not together!), now we were ready to shoot pictures of the water and the beach. I headed north walking along the shore towards Otter Creek. Waves rolled slowly towards the shore. I had on hiking boots and carried my camera in my left hand, the camera strap snug around my neck. One minute I was up, and the next minute I was down. What appeared to be wet sand was actually a thin layer of ice along the shore. I fell on my left side, clutching the camera so hard that my hand hurt much worse than my leg, which suffered a nasty little bruise below my knee. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
When I hit the ground with my camera, my lens shot into the sky like a fat pop bottle rocket before it began its first and last swim in Lake Michigan. Jo saw me pop up off of the ground and immediately jumped into the water to save my lens, thoroughly soaking her Converse tennis shoes. Sandi, watching the scene play out before her, attempted to help both of us at once. She later said she felt a bit “dazed and confused” by all of the action playing out on the beach. Although I was dirty, bruised, and angry at my own stupidity, I swear I heard my mother’s voice say, “See! I told you that you were walking on thin ice!” Even though she passed away in 2008, those words rang in my ears like church bells. After drying off, cleaning off, and pondering the fate of my lens, we continued our photo journey to Glen Haven and Glen Arbor. We ate lunch at Art’s Tavern where I ordered a nice cold beer to soothe my ego. After a brief rest, we headed to the camera shop in Traverse City. The shop’s employee Molly cleaned all of the sand out of my camera, and my bruised but functional camera survived my attempt at killing it by the icy shores of Lake Michigan.
We made it safely back to Higgins Lake, munching on exquisite brownies Jo had made and tasty treats Sandi brought along, before parting ways. After Jo and Sandi headed back to Midland, I realized that I was really sore and still very dirty. I thought about how my mom and dad would have been proud of me for picking myself up after yet another huge error in judgment. I guess that’s something they always knew about me: I’ve always been willing to walk on thin ice, because I like the danger.
On March 9th, 1973, I turned eighteen, and I had no idea what I wanted (with apologies to Alice Cooper). On March 10th, 1973, Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon, and I listened to the album so often I could hear it in my sleep. In “The Great Gig in the Sky,” Clare Torry’s voice seemed to explain life—without a word. The firestorm of emotions in her voice, alternating between sensual whispering and wailing, suggested a profound sense of loss. She seemed to capture the very essence of high school: angst—in stereo. My 40th high school reunion will be held this summer in Dodge City, Kansas, and I am looking forward to the stories as we whisper and wail our way back through the maze of high-school memories.
Although I would have preferred focusing on music and my social life in high school, my parents had other ideas: go to school, work, do chores, and all of that boring stuff. My mother most likely knew all of the words to “Stairway to Heaven,” whether or not she really wanted to, and when my fabulous friend Susan made a poster of the lyrics as a gift for my 18th birthday, my mother quipped: “Don’t you listen to the Eagles or Carole King anymore?” Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin were just a few albums I played endlessly in my room. If my music began to drive my mother crazy, she would crank up some Tom Jones on the stereo in the living room to counteract the hippie music blaring from my room. If my father was home, his favorite phrase was: “Turn it down”—to both of us.
We lived in a small 1940s era farmhouse, and I had zero privacy in my room: A door from the kitchen led into my room. Door number two led into the bathroom, the only bathroom in the house, and door number three led into my parents’ bedroom. My parents had an additional door which led into the kitchen, so I eventually convinced them to keep the door between our bedrooms closed. In order to get to our bathroom, a person had to enter door number one, take a good look at my room, and then enter through door number two for the bathroom. Another door led from the bathroom into a closet where I stored my clothes, my mother stored the swearing jar, and my father kept an assortment of work clothes and odd items. My bedroom did not have a closet, so I dressed in the closet without a mirror to gaze into. Hopefully that will explain my lack of fashion sense for most of my life.
One day, as I listened to the Eagles on my stereo, my mother yelled: “Turn off your stereo; I want to hear the birds.” She was in the kitchen on the other side of door number one. I carefully lifted the needle off of the album. A minute or two went by, and in a much quieter voice she said: “The birds are gone. You can play your music again.” I dropped the needle at the beginning of “Earlybird” again. She yelled: “The birds are back! Turn off the stereo.” We repeated this process several times. She finally opened door number one, stepped into my bedroom/grand-central station and said: “The birds are on the record.” We grinned at each other like drunken fools. “I think I like it,” she said. We danced for a minute before she walked out of the room and left the door open.
I muddled through the rest of high school working part-time at the Kwik Shop, spent little time on homework, and a lot of time on my social life. I remember walking across the stage, my gown covering my t-shirt and shorts, and practically skipping as my sandals slid me into the future. It was the end of high school and the beginning of…what? Life? There was no going back. I could not change my grades or my lack of enthusiasm for any class that did not involve writing poetry. I did not want things to change. I loved my friends, telling stories, and listening to music.
Our music is considered oldies music now, and I still love being with my friends and telling stories. Now that I am older and forty years have passed since my high school days, I guess I have finally grown up. I miss dancing with my mother, and my father trying to control the noise pollution in the house after a hard day at work. I actually miss constantly being in trouble. Here’s to the class of 1973: Dodge City Red Demons! Let’s go!