The ugly duckling

If there ever was a grayer person, I had never seen him. He was so grey that the first time I saw him, I didn’t see him. But he must have skated past me. Now, I was standing on the sidelines, my eyes on Daughter out there learning to skate, so I didn’t pay attention to any other people on or off the ice.

I was also listening to music, so if the grey man had said something to me, I hadn’t heard a word.

I don’t know how many times he skated past me, but at some point, the fact that somebody was regularly blocking my view of the ice did register, and I had a good look at the guilty party. Having read this far you already know that he was the grayest person I’d ever seen, but let me try to describe to you just how grey he was.

He's out there somewhere.

For one, he was mostly grey in the face, and brown everywhere else, because he was wearing brown pants, a brown jacket, and on his head, a brown hunter’s hat. No, wait, it was just a regular ski hat, but he had folded it up in the back so it looked like the hats that Robin Hood’s merry men wore in the Sherwood forest.

The man also looked so old that he might have been one of the original merry men. If I say that he was 100 years old, I may be off by a decade or two, but I can’t tell you which way.

He was gray, and he was old, and he was sweet. The latter became obvious to me when he passed me the next time, stopped almost in front of me, and started to talk to me.

“I can still do it,” he said, with a smile on his face.

“I didn’t think I could do it, but here I am, still doing it. Skating. I’m skating. Oh well, gotta go, I’m doing laps here,” he added.

“Oh, good for you,” I said politely, and watched as the greyest man in the world skated away. Now I was curious, though. Since the ability to skate, and to skate well, has always been about the only talent I’ve considered having, I’m always curious to see how others skate. The gray old man’s stride was short, and shaky, but he kept on skating, and he never fell.

When he skated by me the next time, I looked at his skates, and they, too, were old and gray. They were skates from a few generations ago, and I imagined the old man playing hockey with his friends when his skates were brand new.

Every time he skated by me, he smiled, and I expected him to lift his hat, and now that I think back, maybe he did lift his Robin Hood hat once or twice.

I saw him there every once in a while on Tuesdays and Saturdays, when I was there with Daughter. His stride got a little stronger, as he kept on skating around the speed skating and bandy rink. This fall, though, the gray old man was nowhere to be seen.

Maybe his grandson or granddaughter – or his great-great-grandkid – had quit bandy, or maybe he’d quit skating, I thought. Maybe his legs couldn’t take it anymore, or maybe he’d fallen down once, and couldn’t get up.

Last Saturday, I was standing on the sidelines again, watching Daughter skate around with her teammates, when I suddenly saw a man skate around one of the goals, and I thought he was skating a little too close to the kids. Then he turned around, and skated towards the other end of the rink.

The man was wearing red pants and a neon red jacket, and he held his new hockey stick a little awkwardly as he turned around and skated towards me. As he skated by me, I first saw the new Bauer skates, and then I recognized the skater. It was the gray old man.

He made a little twirl, and he smiled at me.

Then he kept on skating.

How does that make you feel?