I owe a great debt of thanks to broken collarbone and my childhood physician, Dr. Mercurochrome.
The summer before I entered first grade, I fell off the curb in an early display of the agility that would lead to me being picked last for sports teams throughout my youth.
Dr. Mercurochrome delivered the bad news after my accident. He recommended that I avoid skates, both ice and roller, until I was at least 16 — or my dad got a better medical insurance plan.
At first, I was very disappointed by the doctor’s advice. I dreamed of skating after I began to watch Sunday night roller derby matches on Channel 48 featuring the Philadelphia Warriors with “Pretty Judy” Arnold and “Little Richard” Brown.
Eventually, I realized that I might not have survived if I had strapped on the metal-wheeled roller skates. The time that I broke my collarbone would have been looked back on as the good, old days.
I became even more grateful that I was saved from myself in lacing up ice skates. I would have spent more time lying on the ice than the catch of the day at a fish market.
It was not even possible to daydream about staying upright, struggling not to break my neck while trying to stand on a pair of narrow blades of steel on an icy surface.
As someone who often slipped on our imitation Oriental rug, I just could not imagine negotiating my way around a sheet of frozen water.
That self-assessment was confirmed by ventures in traveling on foot, sled or skis as a winter pastime.
The rubber boots that we wore to travel to Washington Elementary School up the block and across the street helped save me from more involuntary contact with icy sidewalks than I would have had otherwise.
Occasionally, though, the sidewalks were shoveled clear enough that Mother let us venture off to school just wearing our leather-soled shoes.
Although it is popular to refer to as clear patches of frozen water as black ice, in my case it was more than black and blue and ice.
Sometimes I would take a running start deliberately to try to slide and other times the ice would send me sliding by surprise, but my slip would always end the same way. I would be staring up at the sky and someone would be asking me, “Are you OK?”
The gutters were probably the most tempting and dangerous because the melted water would freeze and create a long runway for sliding. Unfortunately, I would soon hit a ridge in the ice, take off and come in for a very rough landing.
Sledding down a steep hill at the end of the next block was safer — but not much safer. Dad acquired my brothers and me a heavy duty sled that could have been used to batter down the gate to a medieval castle.
However, the sled proved to be much more indestructible than I did. It did limit my opportunities for hurting myself because it took so much time and effort to drag it back up the steep hill after each run.
Normally, we would try to zoom down the hill and go as far as gravity would take us — usually past the intersection and another half block or so.
However, after one storm there was a particularly inviting snow pile on a corner at the hill’s bottom. I figured if I steered into it, it would stop the sled safely. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the powdered snow that stopped us. The fire hydrant in the middle of it did.
I only tried skiing once, even after I passed the doctor’s recommendation on traveling on slippery means of transportation. I lasted about an hour. I got tired of all the little kids skiing around me and laughing while I lay on the bunny slope unable to get up.