At the corner of Sheridan Road and Sheridan Place, right across from East Elementary and Lake Bluff Junior High School sits Artesian Park, two blocks of village green where every Fourth of July the grassy field turns to festival and carnival and fun and every winter, the sunken baseball diamond is flooded to make an ice-skating rink.
As soon as the temperature dips and the rink freezes solid, villagers swarm to the park, packing the small patch of ice with skaters of all ages, sizes and skills; with races of speed and games of Crack-the-Whip, hockey sticks slapping and half-hearted “Hamill Camels” spinning.
Huge smiles crowding pink cheeks.
The park’s field house is also opened, where a giant crackling fire in a giant stone hearth, hot drinks, long rubber mats and long, wooden benches, welcome skaters looking for secure footing and a temporary reprieve from the nippy wonders of winter.
Such happiness in hot cocoa and crackling fires.
In being a part of village life, instead of apart from it.
Layered, bundled, skated and packed into the station wagon, anxious to get to the rink and our friends, we watch Dad re-shovel the shoveled path by the garage. When Mom finally steps through the back door, all heads swivel toward the flash of candy apple red which has newly invaded the icy, grey scenery.
There stands Mom in an outfit the likes of which Lake Bluff villagers have never – nor will likely ever see again – a red and white checkered snow suit, with its belted jacket and matching knickers (Yes, that’s right, I said knickers.), red cable knit stockings, white knit gloves, and a matching, white knit, helmet-shaped cap with ear flaps and a large, snowball-sized pom-pom on top.
It’s something to be seen… and near impossible to miss.
She’s something to be seen.
But that’s usually Mom: statuesque, blonde, beautiful, incomparable. Ever the model. Not afraid to be individual, and always, always fashionable – even when that fashion might be questionable.
… at least from the viewpoint of her five, young impressionables.
But Mom is glowing.
Excited for the family outing. Eager to put her weatherproof, yet fashion savvy snow suit to the test.
But Mom is GLOWING.
Like a giant, checkered barber pole.
And everyone from Dad (whose briefly raised eyebrows are a dead giveaway) to Mark (who strains his tiny, bundled body to turn and stare wide-eyed at the walking tablecloth) – are stunned silent by the new outfit that speaks volumes.
As Dad winds the wagon toward town, whispers around the rear seats are exchanged. It’s agreed that the best course of action is evasive. A rapid, rear door exit will surely guarantee reaching the rink quickly and losing ourselves in the nameless, motherless crowd in moments.
As luck would have it, a parking space – one actually big enough to accommodate our Grand Safari station wagon – opens up right in front and above the bustling rink. There’s no more delaying the inevitable fashion statement that’s about to be thrust upon the unsuspecting citizens of Lake Bluff.
As soon as Dad docks the wagon and shifts into park, Jim and Chris leap from the center seat and never look back. In the very rear of the wagon, however, Mia and I are at the mercy of Dad who needs to open our escape hatch from the outside (a major miscalculation), and who is leisurely lacing his own skates; while Mom struggles to wriggle a wiggly four-year-old into a pair of hand-me-down, oversized skates.
Dad finally releases us, and leaving Mia to fend for herself, I make fast, teetering tracks to the ice, losing myself in a swarm of bladed, unbounded activity.
From the anonymity of the crowd below I watch, – mortified – as Mom’s checkered ensemble appears around the rear of our wagon, moving very, very slowly over ice and snow toward the rink. Giving everyone within a three mile radius ample time to take it all in.
Radiating red against the endless, ashen clouds.
Unembarrassed. Unaffected. Unbelievable.
Forcing me deeper into the throng of villagers, into the sea of somber, Midwestern winter gear. Commonsensical clothes in practical colors blending together like the dark waters of a deep, churning lake.
Drowning me in denim and down; in unfamiliar faces and forms, swirling and twirling and lawless.
I feel panic rise and tears swell and wish everyone would just… STOP!
Until a beautiful beacon appears.
A sudden flash of something dazzlingly bright shining through the drab-colored chaos.
The most wonderful sight I’ve ever seen. Giving instant comfort. Guiding me home.
To the arms of Mom.
To the warmth of her hug.
Wrapped tight in all her red and white checkered glory.