By Rachel-Richardson, produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
I am not the most graceful of girls. My center of balance has yet to be found. If I were an animal, I’d be less of a swan and more of a hedgehog. In short—which I also am—the idea of putting on ice skates and swishing around a rink seemed like an express pass to a pair of crutches. I would fall, and no fun would be had by anyone.
None of this happened.
On a Monday afternoon, my friend Meg and I braved the wintry weather to try our luck on the rink in Spartanburg’s Morgan Square. We’d expressly chosen a weekday afternoon in hopes of avoiding crowds. We knew we’d need a lot of room; while neither of us is currently adept at ice-skating, invariably our bodies would remember the motions and in no time we’d be skimming along like a pair of sequined Olympians.
None of this happened, either.
Skating on the Square is in its third season in downtown Spartanburg. Last winter, over 25,000 Spartans took to the ice between November and January. The rink is made possible by an anonymous benefactor and welcomes skaters of all ages and abilities, which was great, considering Meg and I were both older and less adept than the children we skated with.
The scene was appropriately festive, with white lights strung in every tree and crisscrossing the rink overhead. Speakers played holiday music and giant snowflakes hung from nearby branches. Add this to the garlanded streetlights up and down Main Street, and downtown Spartanburg looks less like South Carolina and more like foggy London.
I’m a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to the holidays. In fact, I pretty much hate winter. I’m from Oklahoma originally, a state that is blasted year-round with extreme weather, where winters are bitter, icy, and erratic. When I went to college in central New York, I saw more snow than I ever care to see again. Most of my colleagues were New Englanders who reveled in the stuff, but I opted to stay in rather than go skiing.
However, I did take ice skating classes while in college. The hockey coach who taught the class was thrilled to have a novice student who actually needed to learn how to skate. Meanwhile, my peers were pirouetting circles around me. By the class’s end, I could move at a decent clip and I had ankles of steel, but I assumed they had atrophied in the intervening ten years since I took the class. Turns out, I was right.
Meg, on the other hand, grew up in Canada before moving to western Maine, so she was essentially born in a parka with mittens on her hands and skates on her feet. Neither of us had skated since relocating to Spartanburg. We were more than a little nervous.
We traded our tokens for pairs of black ice skates. They seemed sturdy enough, but as soon as I stood, I felt immeasurable dread. Meg had already laced up and was on her way to the ice before I could even get my first skate on. I appreciated the added inches of height, but my progress over the mats, up the stairs, and onto the actual ice, was glacial.
We were the sole skaters aside from a trio of girls out with their mother and the skate guard, a young guy who advised us to “stick to the walls.” We didn’t need to be told twice. We slowly—and I mean slowly—progressed around the circular rink, pausing often to regain our balance. Every time I felt myself slipping, I shrieked.
I’d also completely overdressed for occasion, and by midway through my second lap, I was dripping with sweat. My gloves stayed on, but I ditched basically everything else. Meg, who’d been lamenting her bygone skating ability, unbuttoned her coat and nodded. “This I remember—getting hot.”
We tried to bribe the attendant skate guard into letting us use the walkers meant for kids, but he was resilient in his post and refused. So we beat on, slowly and with mounting aches in our legs, while the young girls (whose combined ages were still younger than me) scooted about and laughed at us. Actually, they were great role models, and I told one so: “I’m just trying to do what you’re doing, so you keep at it!” If she pitied me, she didn’t show it.
After three laborious turns, Meg and I were worn out, so we tugged off our skates and returned them. We stopped in the Skating on the Square Cafe to buy refreshments, realizing only after we’d ordered we didn’t have enough cash between us. We went to split the lone hot cocoa we could afford when the attendant came out and gave us our lemonade, free of charge. It was basically a Christmas miracle.
We sat on the square and watched the skaters. The skate guards had switched, and a new teenager swooped about on the ice, completely carefree. When we’d turned our skates in, we’d received a stamp on the hand allowing us to come back anytime that day for no charge.
I admit, I was tempted when I got home to my boyfriend, but, as usual, the couch and a warm blanket won me over. When I told my boyfriend later, he said I’d made the right choice— he doesn’t know how to skate, either. Maybe next year?
Ten dollars buys unlimited skating for the day, and for $50, you can purchase a season pass that’s good until the rink closes in mid-January. I never expected I’d go ice-skating in my inaugural winter in Spartanburg, but, as I’ve learned since moving here, this place is full of surprises.
Rachel Richardson, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
Rachel Richardson was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She has lived in central New York, coastal Carolina, and Austria but now calls Spartanburg home. She is an aspiring writer, dog enthusiast, and Administrative Assistant at Hub City Writers Project.