“On Thin Ice”

The first time I went ice skating was at a shopping center. We didn’t yet call these malls, and it was outdoor in a new development called Lloyd Center. Its big draw was covered areas so you could “shop in the rain,” a real incentive in very green(and rainy) Portland, Oregon. For a small amount I could rent a pair of skates and work my way tentatively around the rink, mainly holding onto the rail as are many others doing in the postcard above. As you can tell from the crowd watching from above, ice skating was a novel sight for most and quite compelling, especially the stunts of the expert skaters. I never advanced beyond the rail gripping stage at Lloyd Center.

Arriving in Massachusetts as a college student I learned that people actually ice skated on frozen ponds. This amazed me so much that I promptly bought my own pair of ice skates and went with a friend to try them out. As you can imagine, the experience at the shopping center had in no way prepared me for outdoor skating. Most terrifying, there was no railing to grip! I fell a few times and abandoned my dream of becoming “Hans Brinker’s” sister on ice.

But remembering these experiences took me back to another snowy day with my pals Dude and Skipper. There was a shallow pond in Skipper’s yard that had frozen over. A small hill lay to its side. The ice looked tempting, so we all got in a red wagon and rolled it down the hill onto the pond. We were sure it would be fun to sit in the wagon on the ice. Once we hit the pond the ice broke, we fell in and our parents rushed to haul out three disgruntled six year olds. Despite our imagination, this was not a vast lake, but only about a six inch deep pond, so no real safety issues were a concern of the adults. I suspect they would have forbidden the stunt, but they were indoors and we were outdoors.

Our parents had often warned us about our behavior by saying we were “skating on thin ice.” They were from Winnipeg, Manitoba and Buffalo, New York, so the saying meant something to them. Until that afternoon, the metaphor made little sense. Now it most certainly did.

30 thoughts on ““On Thin Ice”

  1. definitely a saying from my past “you’ve skating on thin ice” – when I guess I was getting closer to being punished for some misdemeanor that Mother felt needed me to “see Father”


  2. I tried it the once, on a famous indoor rink in South London. I had hoped to impress my first serious girlfriend. That was a bad idea, as I fell immediately, then hurt my ankle trying to get back up in the heavy rented skating boots. By contrast, she took to it like a master, and I was forced to watch from the side as she completed two flawless circuits. My first and last time on the ice.
    Best wishes, Pete.


  3. I learned to ice skate in college when Memphis froze up for a few days. John and I skated at Rockefeller Center one time, because one of his sisters wanted to meet us there. It was great fun. My skating ended after the children grew up, and none of us went to the mill pond to skate any more.


  4. One time in my childhood growing up in the south, the civic center was turned into an ice rink. What a novelty! We rented skates and I was a sorry site as a skater. Still, it was a new and fun experience. Fast forward to moving to Massachusetts. Everyone either skated or skied. I thought that people going to the skating rink rented skates, like they do in a bowling alley. I learned quickly. Hubby showed me a hockey game on a small B&W TV. Hockey? I had never heard of the sport. Really. All those ants swarming on the small TV made no sense to me. But, I came to understand and love the game (my southern relatives were a bit horrified.) I have the Bruins on as I type this. Thanks for the memories, Elizabeth. I’m sure you were glued to figure skaters in the Olympics like I was. I’m probably the only person who watched the compulsory figure eight, done outdoors.


    1. On one hot date(which turned out to be less than romantic to my dismay) John took me to a Bruins game. It was 1967 and I watched Bobby Orr. This didn’t impress me much(since I was waiting for some off the rink action!) but it has impressed my grandson no end.

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  5. Your post made me curious about the origin of “skating on thin ice,” so I looked it up. The idiom originated in Holland and was first used in the USA in an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1841 Who knew!


  6. I think I tried ice skating once at an indoor rink.. never knew I had such wobbly ankles.. But roller skating was another matter.. We all loved it and it was the thing to do on Friday nights in junior high.


  7. I never could master skating – ice or roller skates – but balance has always been an issue for me. It took me ages to master riding a bicycle when I got one at 11 years old.
    Here in the Fens, certain fields are deliberately flooded in icy weather for skaters. It seems to me a wonderfully safe way of skating outdoors.
    (It’s snowing here at the moment and, this time, the snow is laying.)


      1. There’s a whole Wikepedia article on Fen skating. Unfortunately it hasn’t been cold enough very often in the last decade or two. We’ve passed them skating along our route to Peterborough since we’ve been here and I expect there will be a lot out today – lockdown or no lockdown. We’ve had so much rain lately that lots of fields hve been flooded already to release water from the river so that it doesn’t flood houses (we’re under sea level here in the Fens. The Dutch came across to help dig drainage dykes centuries ago)


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