Her eyes were riveted to the furry pink pom-poms attached to the pair of gleaming white skates casually draped over the shoulder of the pretty blonde girl. She was shivering in line dressed in her shabby hand-me-downs. A dreamy smile played upon her lips as she imagined herself wearing a white skating outfit. The skirt had a fur border at the hemline; the top had silver sequins around the neck and sleeve borders. She floated upon the ice, head held high, with arms extended toward the sky in a ballet pose.
“Carole! The line is moving. You have your quarter?” asked the mother.
She startled and shuffled forward closing the gap in the line and pulled her admission money out of her pocket.
It was Washington’s Birthday. In the 50s this was a holiday celebrated on February 22, his actual birthday. Wollman Memorial Rink in Manhattan’s Central Park offered a discount to school kids on holidays. We got there early and waited in line to be sure to make the cut-off. I remember the roped-off line area being crowded, loud and cold. Most of the kids rented the disgusting brown and black ice-skates with the torn up lining that felt icky on the soles of your feet. That used-foot smell stayed in your nostrils long after you laced the skates up tight and stood up from the bench with your nose as far away from your feet as possible. Once you made it out to the rink with the hordes of skaters, you could put it out of your head and focus on not getting trampled.
Once in the traffic flow, I could get up some speed and pretend I didn’t know my brother, Robert, who rarely made it off the rail. I had to keep from snickering watching him struggle to keep his ankles from turning in. My sister, Linda, could skate alright, but she never stopped talking, so I had to skate out of earshot.
After a while, mom called us to the lunch table where she had set brown paper bags in each of our places. The girl with the pink pom-poms glided by holding hands with an adult version of herself, wearing matching outfits.
“Mommy, can I get my own skates some day? With a silver case? And pom-poms? And one of those outfits?”
She pursed her lips, and then forced a smile. “Carole, those are for rich kids; the ones that skate at Rockefeller Center. Let’s just make the most of what we have here.”
My pout tried to pass as a smile: “Okay. Mom.”
In my heart I said: “Some day I will skate at Rockefeller Plaza.”
Years later my family moved to California. I became a flight attendant based in Oakland with frequent layovers in New York. One chilly February morning, I quietly slipped out of my crew quarters at the Commodore Hotel in Manhattan. I took the subway to Rockefeller Center, went to the skate shop at the famous rink, bought a pair of white skates in a silver case, pink pom-poms, and a ticket for the day. As I stepped off the deck onto the ice, I stretched my arms to the sky, grinned up at the gold statue of Prometheus, and shouted in my head:
“Hey, Mom! Look. I’m skating with the rich kids!”