Monday, January 05, 2004

Winter Wonderland

It looks like, for the time being, the snow has finally stopped falling. That's good; I almost had a grabber shoveling snow earlier this evening. I certainly hope the East Coast knows what they're getting in the next day or so.

The snowfall stoked my urge to go ice skating, so I headed to McKinley Park on the Southwest Side of the city to see if their outdoor rink was open. Upon arriving there I noticed the only activity at the rink was the three attendants shoveling the snow from the rink. Apparently, there was so much snow falling that the rink was closed for the day due to "inclement weather." This made little sense to me initially. Shouldn't "inclement weather" for an outdoor rink be forty degree temperatures?

The McKinley Park ice rink is one of Chicago's hidden gems, like much of the South Side. It's located at the northwest corner of the park where Archer Avenue meets Western Boulevard. Orange Line, Metra, Amtrak, and freight trains continuously pass by. On a clear day you can see the Sears Tower in the distance. In the few times I went skating last winter the rink was never overflowing with people, unlike the rinks at Millennium Park or Navy Pier. So if you fall on your duff (and I do often- I'm not a good skater) you don't have many people to witness your shame.

I was reminded of my Uncle Stu while shoveling the snow earlier. He was charming, witty, and brazen. You never knew what he would say at any moment. That unpredictability was what I loved the most about him; to this day I owe my outspoken nature to him, if not his diplomacy. In my teens, I would've done anything for his approval.

One day in early 1988 a hard snowfall came from nowhere. It was literally unpredicted. I woke up to the sounds of Uncle Stu shoveling the gangway. I donned my winter gear and headed out to join him. Together we cleared the sidewalk and gangway in about twenty minutes. Auntie Ann came out the front door with a Kodak Disc camera and snapped a picture of us. Stu was grinning like a natural ham. I had the brim of my newsboy cap slung low, hiding my eyes. Sweating profusely, we rested our shovels on our shoulders and placed our free hands around each others waists, like lumberjacks. I took that picture to boot camp with me, reminding myself whenever I was depressed about the Florida weather that I could be shoveling snow in April.

I lost that picture, and many others, in a move a few years back. And I rarely thought about Stu or Auntie Ann until I picked up that shovel this evening. They moved to Florida in 1991, and divorced a few years later. I knew they didn't have the most ideal marriage when they took me in. Sometimes I think that my living with them only postponed their eventual separation. I didn't use to think that way. I used to think the opposite. My mother clued me into their troubles much later, when I was grown and could handle the truth. Still, I think Uncle Stu would've given me propers for the way I cleared the sidewalk this evening. Maybe we could've shared some beers.

By the way, I'm Chuck.

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