Sunday Morning ~ Family, Bones, and Gratitude
Cibale ndi pfupa, siciola. ~ Being related is like a bone, it does not rot.
~ Chewa proverb
February 7, 2021
One winter’s day when I was six I looked up at my father and said, “Daddy, I want to do that too.” We were standing together at the bottom of a small ski slope where my older brother was skiing with a friend. We watched them come down the slope looking ecstatic. I watched my brother descend, strong and confident, and I looked up and said again, “Daddy, I want to do that, too.” I was not a brave kid. I was shy and afraid of my own shadow. I rarely asked my father for anything. But, I remember that day, pulling on his arm, pleading, “I want to do that, too.”
We stood together, my father and I, watching my brother go up the rope tow which looked like a mechanized clothes line on a pulley. From where we stood we could see the top of the hill where skiers got off, ready for their next joy ride down. Some skiers held the moving rope with one hand in front and one behind, as a sunbather raising their chest to the sky. Others held on with both hands in front, bent at the waist clutching the rope for dear life. If skis left the track it was curtains, the crumpled body falling in a heap, everyone behind quickly jumping off lest they fall onto the tangled mess. It was like slapstick comedy and I found it hilarious.
Perhaps my boldness that day was a test; I adored my brother and wanted to be strong like him. Maybe it was the fun everyone seemed to be having, but I stood there on that Sunday afternoon in my little red jacket, looking up at my father begging to be part of this club. I remember him looking down at me with a smile. A smile! I may have even been holding his hand. He said, “Really? You want want to do that?” I remember being happy. He was happy. We went to the rental shop, got outfitted with boots, skis, and poles, and out we went, neither of us knowing what we were doing. At the top of the hill my father took off and I didn’t see him again. I started down the hill after him, immediately terrified as this actually required some skill! I planted my butt on the slope and went straight down like I was dragging a parachute. My memory is that bodies were all over the slope and I sailed between them miraculously avoiding collision. I stopped at the bottom before a long snaking line waiting to get on the rope tow and looked around for my father. I finally found him talking to someone, obviously unworried about me. I asked, “How did you get down here so fast?” He laughed, “I started and couldn’t stop!” he howled, then bent over laughing like this was the best day of his life. I loved it. It wasn’t the skiing so much as my father being happy. We were having fun together. My knitted mittens were caked with snow, the boots hurt my feet, and I was scared to death to get on the lift, but, it had been my idea, and even at six I knew better than to throw in the towel after he just dropped some money on me. In the years to come he’d tell the story of our first day on the slopes as something he wanted to try but having this six year old attached to him didn’t think he could. As soon as I expressed interest, he jumped. It was the beginning of a long love affair with a sport and a time when my father and I coexisted contentedly.
I have memories of waiting in ski shops for hours while he bought skis, boots, and poles. I remember standing to get measured, listening to long boring discussions of bindings and edges, watching glamorous people in colorful sweaters and stretch pants, and dreaming of being like them someday. My father was hooked instantly and I went along for the ride. My brothers were included but it was mostly about me for a change. I was the cute little one and got lots of attention for it. I ate it up.
We’d ski on Sundays further afield, bigger mountains, scarier slopes. I fell badly that first year and broke my leg. I remember lying twisted in the snow screaming and strangers coming to help. I have no idea how they found my father but someone skied down and got the ski patrol to collect me. It was a comfort when they arrived and bundled me into the toboggan, tied up tight. I felt safe, comfortable even, apart from the aching pain in my leg. My mother learned of the accident when my father came home without me. I stayed overnight in a hospital in New Hampshire, not sleeping nor eating, scared and motionless, my heavy plaster cast resting on pillows, thinking I had ruined everything. I watched the nurses at their desk in the ward, starched white uniforms and caps, cinched waists, and sensible shoes. They took my full tray away without commenting and I never said a peep. The fun was all gone. I blew it. I don’t remember any pain except for when it happened but I’m sure there must have been. My family didn’t believe in dulling pain. In the morning my parents came to get me. I remember looking up to see my mother, dressed in a wool tweed suit and hat, smiling down at me. My father was next to her in a suit and tie. For once it was a family outing with just the three of us. And they were smiling.
My father told me my leg would be stronger than before and I believed him. I skied again the following winter and the one after that. When I was ten I broke my other leg and when that bone healed and I went back again.
I am most happy when I am skiing. I feel free and strong in a way I don’t experience any other time. I’m sure my love of the sport began with pleasing my father, a lifelong quest, but that’s fine. I am grateful to my father for this gift. I’m grateful for the time we spent on chairlifts talking. I’m grateful for the stories of mishaps and wipeouts that made us laugh until we couldn’t breathe. I look back at how bones and family have left their mark on me. And my legs are still strong.
Love to all,