Thursday, May 21, 2009

"We don't ski too well...but we're real fun at dinner!"

If our family had a motto, that would be it. I think that it very nicely sums up what and who we are, and how we approach life!

I didn’t learn to ski until about the time that I got married. (It would have been far too easy to learn to ski when I was in college and living 20 minutes from a great resort. No, I had to wait until any mountain was four hours from home)

My dad was patiently teaching my brother, me, and my husband. The guys caught on all right, but I was really struggling. I’d go about ten feet, then crash and never could get the turns. Dad finally told me to “stop looking for a place to fall down!”

Then going down a hill once, I realized that if I shifted the weight on my foot, that I changed direction. It was an epiphany for me! It was all about weight distribution, just like in ballet. When I mentioned my great flash of wisdom, Dad looked at me like DUH. At which point I snarled that he should have told me that in the first place, as it would have made things much much easier.

I was also wary of the ski lift, which I was sure would be the death of me. I would palpitate waiting for it to sidle up behind me. I would sit stock still all of the way up the mountain, for fear of falling off. And the dismount was always an adventure. One of the first times up the mountain, I was sweating as we approached the end of the lift. I was very careful to keep my tips up, heeding the warnings as you approached the ramp. I slid off of the seat and started down the hill…to find some fat chick crashed in the middle of the ramp! In a panic, I turned to the left, thinking that I could just hop off of the side. Not a good plan. The lift was higher than I expected, and there was a wall with poles rising out of it to stop me. They had to stop the lift to rescue me before I fell over the wall and slid off of a cliff, and I skied off embarrassed, and greeted by my family, which was now rolling on the ground laughing.

By way of vengeance, my brother soon found out why they tell you keep your tips up, and he fell into the net that precedes the ramp. This time, I laughed.

One time as we got on the lift, I saw something drop as my dad got on the chair ahead of me. I looked down and realized that it was the lens of his glasses. Not only does he need those glasses, but I wasn’t even sure that we could get him down the mountain without one eye! I reached out in my thick Gore-tex gloves and managed to snag it as my butt plopped and I was lifted 20 feet into the air. I was so afraid to move the whole trip. I sat there with my fingers clenched so tight that they were cramping by the time we got to the top, but we saved the lens.

We had our fair share of crashes. Dad and I would collide frequently down a hill as I tried to stay with him, but still not very sure on my skis. Once, I struggled to stop and slid right up and into the arms of the cousin of a friend of ours – I didn’t know him well, but he was very nice looking, so it was all good.

We then began to tackle moguls. There was one particular mogul field that we felt that we could handle, so a group of about eight of us began the journey. About halfway down, I stopped to catch my breath. Below me were various stages of “wreckage”, my friends and family strewn about. A trio of skiers glided up behind me, in their stunning high-end ski attire and surveyed the sight. “I think you just better play through,” I advised them. “We might be here awhile!”

One notable crash happened on a thin catwalk trail at the top of the mountain. I was a better skier at this point, but still nervous. I was so paranoid about falling off of the cliff on the one side. The next thing I knew, Dad hit me from behind and there were arms and legs going every which way. We finally came to rest just at the edge of the cliff, with my arms stuck underneath him and my body on top. At which point he says gruffly, “Get off of me!” Need I remind him that it was HE who hit ME??

But I was in trouble even when I was alone. One day, I came to a fork in the trail and was pondering whether to follow one set of friends down the easier slope to the left, or take the harder route to the right with my dad. I hesitated a few seconds too long, and was soon sliding down BOTH sides of the hill. One leg was travelling to the left, and one was travelling to the right. Unfortunately, my ski pole was lodged between the two, and soon ended up underneath my butt as I slid to a stop. My right leg is facing east, my left leg is facing north, and my hand is stuck in the loop on the ski pole, which is now all of the way behind me. I couldn’t get any leverage to pull myself back up the hill, and I couldn’t get my hand out. All I could do was sit there, pathetically, with my hand stuffed in my crotch, as a parade of skiers sailed past me. I have no idea how I finally got out, I only remember being mortified!

As I got to be a better skier, I wanted to prove to the guys that I could keep up with them. (for some reason, we had few women skiers in our group…they stayed in the lodge and read books or something) My favorite trick was to stand at the top of a cliff and look over the edge. If the guys wavered even a little bit, I would drop over the edge and tell them that we wouldn’t know if we could do it until we tried. Then they were committed and had to follow!

We had the opportunity to ski in some beautiful powder one day. It’s rare in our area, so we were really excited. We took the lift as far up the mountain as we could, and began to take some difficult trails down the mountain. We were at our peak as skiers, and we thought that we were pretty darn cool coming down the face of a bowl shaped hillside. Until my brother bit it. He fell end over end and a ski snapped off. It was almost impossible to find in the fine, deep, white powder! He kept reaching into the snow and feeling around, muttering to himself.

We loved to ski in groups, with friends from our area. We would caravan to the ski resort in a variety of cars, then meet up at the lodge. After a long day of skiing, we would begin the long drive home, stopping for dinner at a nice little restaurant that served excellent chicken noodle soup and fresh bread. We would delight the non-skiers at our table with tales of our crashes and adventures on the mountain, exhausted ourselves some more laughing. Then we’d sleep the rest of the way home, and the poor driver had to fight sleep to get us home.

One trip, we were asked to take along a co-worker’s teenage son. We didn’t feel that we could refuse, so we agreed. But we all were concerned about him, as he was a very good skier and somewhat cocky. We knew that he would be disgusted at our mediocre skills and would probably make fun of us, then ditch us on the mountain. Which would be fine, as he was somewhat intolerable at times, and never very happy with anyone.

To our surprise, he stayed with us the entire day. Even when we suggested that he take the harder runs while we made our way down, he trailed along and waited patiently as we picked ourselves up and dusted off, only to crash again five feet further down. He didn’t say much, but he didn’t say anything negative, so we included him in our conversations and decisions.

When we stopped to eat, we were especially careful to make sure that he was a part of the conversation, and explain any inside jokes that arose. And of course, we had some great crash stories to share. We were soon laughing and carrying on, and he along with us. As always, the stories brought gales of laughter and squeals as we recounted our alternating daring acts of bravery and complete lack of skill.

When it came time to leave, the room came to a complete standstill when he proclaimed, “I wanna come skiing with you more often. You guys are FUN!”

We were stunned. He didn’t laugh at us, and he didn’t get crabby. He thought that we were fun!

Dad broke the silence by telling him, “We don’t ski too well…but we’re real fun at dinner!”

It’s okay to be a clutz on a mogul field, as long as we have a good laugh about it later. I used to say, “It wasn’t a good day skiing unless you have some good crash stories to tell.”

Our family has always been like that. We’re not the richest, the smartest, the most well-read, or the most interesting. We’re not highly successful or famous or even perfect at what we do. But we enjoy our time together, and love and accept the limitations that we have. Rejoice in them, at times, even.

I think that I have forgotten that to some degree over the past years. I had forgotten that it’s all about enjoying the ride, not getting to the bottom first, or even making it without tearing out the seat of your pants as you land in a heap in front of a bevy of snobby skiers. At the end of the day, it’s okay if you can laugh about it and share it with your family.

No, we don’t ski too well…but we’re real fun at dinner!

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