Little did I realize that my enthusiasm did not necessarily migrate to the rest of the family. "Sure, it looks easy on television, but so did cooking with Meril, and you know how that turned out", replied my wife. Missy was immediately enthused and was instantly yelling at my Dad while pulling on his shirt sleeve, "Let's do it pappa, lets do it". All the while, Dad is giving me that same look when I suggested that we drive to Alaska for our vacation instead of fly. None the less, the deed was done and my wife knew that once Missy had made a decision, little could distract her. It did not help that the Olympics were to run another 10 days to as a constant reminder. I started my search on the Internet for a curling club expecting that the nearest club might be hours away. After a few keystrokes in the old search engine, it came up that there was a club not five miles away. "Hey, look at this, there's a club over behind the old fire station". Dad was walking by at that time, and though it was faint, I was sure he mentioned something about "we shoulda moved to Arizona".
A few days later we attended a Curling Open House. I did not know what to expect to see or experience inside a curling club. I had images of multi-colored diamond checker pants and slick, professional, logo covered jackets reminiscent of a nationals golf tournament and curling members gathered around a central bar sharing their latest tales of rock bumping greatness. So I was a little taken aback, (disappointed really), when it looked like a backyard barbecue party at my neighbors. Nothing had made a curling member stand out from a visitor other than the telltale black shoes with a rubber booty (must be to keep water from getting in their shoes). Dad fit right in after a few minutes because a guest asked him how long he had been playing. It must have been the fact that Dad did not take the rubber booty off his own black dress shoes because it was raining when we came over and that's what he wore.
Out of the blue, a "clang, clang, clang", rang through the club. This little old guy the age of Moses was gripping the string on a bell like he was in a cathedral. After the alarm, he stated that the instructors were going to begin explaining what curling was and how it was played. There were a half dozen round tables strewn through-out the club each with exactly eight chairs. In the center of the tables, were a couple of upside down beer pictures. An instructor sat down at our table (I could tell because of the black booties). "So do we start with refreshments before we start curling?" I asked. Usually not, replied the instructor. "It's generally not a good idea to have a drink before we go out on the ice." You mean because people will get hurt?" "No, usually because they don't realize they got hurt". Well, that made sense, but I still wanted something to take the edge off before trying this. Still I was excited and a little nervous at the same time. I had not been on a sheet of ice for a good 10 years. My wife was paying close attention to the instructions, which was a good thing, because I was being distracted by my daughter who was very concerned that they did not have curling shoes in her color. My dad was totally enveloped by it all. He was sitting as rigid and attentive as a drill sergeant at attention.
After 45 minutes of instruction and questions, we were ready to go out on the ice. I asked our instructor where we would turn in our shoes and pick up our curling shoes. After a stout laugh, he replied that this was not a bowling alley and we did not do it that way. He got up and returned 30 seconds later with what looked like the sole of a shoe with spandex over the top. "Here, try this on" The bottom of the thing looked like the surface of a new plastic spatula. "Where's the other one?" I asked. "You only need one." he quipped. "Weren't you listening to the instructions?" my wife asked flippidly. There was nothing I could do but ignore her because I knew she was right. "There, done!" I was halfway to curling glory. "Are you right or left handed?" the instructor inquired. "Right" I stated. "Then you need to put it on your left foot, not your right" he laughed. Crap! I said to myself. Dad just smirked as he made his way to the curling ice, half sliding, half walking on the carpet. Missy had migrated to an open part of the clubhouse and with as much speed as she could muster was sliding on one foot between tables with the balance of a seasoned ice skater.
We all made it to the edge of the ice and carefully stepped on with our regular shoe first. We were told that if we stepped onto the ice with our "slider" first, we would surely and dramatically slip and fall. Being I did not want a hip replacement at 46, I carefully eased onto the surface as if I were dipping my toe into a hot tub to test it. This was not driveway ice. It was even, clear and clean, yet there was a marbled texture to it. "The affect you see is called 'Pebbling' and it is what allows the curling stones to slide long distances" replied our instructor. This was a strange sensation. It was not like skates where you could confidently pick up each foot. You had to preform a little shuffle with your regular shoe because you could not stand on the "slider" with much weight without falling down. Or so I thought. While the rest of use are acclimating ourselves to the ice, the instructor is gliding down the sheet on his slider foot. And there right behind him was Missy doing the same. Dad on the other hand was taking a little longer. Using two of the brooms they use in curling, he was balancing himself as if he were using crutches. My wife was also taking to the ice easily. An experienced skater herself, she did not hold back embarrassing me with little verbal jabs as she slide circles around me.
After what seemed an eternity perfecting our form on the ice, It came down to meat and potatoes time. At last we were going to "curl stones". We were instructed to divide into teams of four people. "Great, got that covered" I muttered. "Now I want you to choose the leader of your team, which we call the 'Skip'. Then choose the first, second and third player, called the "Lead, Second and Vice". Before I could get a word out, Dad exclaimed. "I'm in charge, I'm the Skip". "No way, Dad. This was my idea" After a short stare down, my wife interrupted by stating that the best player on the ice should be the skip and without our acknowledgement, promptly slide down the ice to take her position. It was hard to argue her declaration, given the fact there was no way I could even catch up to her. "No matter, I'll be the Vice", I stated. "Sorry Dad, positions taken" exclaimed Missy. I solemnly settled into the second postilion.
Dad was up first and being that he had difficulty bending down, they had a neat little invention that allowed you to push the stone down the ice standing up. It looked like a broomstick with the straws taken out and just the metal loops that had tied them together remained. It fit perfectly around the handle so you could control the stone. Trying to get everyone in the icehouse to hear, the instructor shouted "Now, don't throw hard down the ice. You'll be surprised at the ease and distance the stone will travel". Not being shy, Dad was the first one in the icehouse to push off. After getting the end of the push stick onto the stone handle, he briskly walked towards the hog line (sort of a foul line you see in bowling) and with a little shove, pushed the push stick and stone down the ice. Little did I realize the echo an icehouse makes when you drop a stick on the ice. But there it was, both the stone and push stick sliding towards my wife the 'Skip'. "Um, pappa, I think you're supposed to hold onto the push stick", whispered Missy. As startling as the sound was, more so was the fact that Dad's stone came to rest a few feet from the center of the circles (which they call the 'House'). "That's how it's done!", said Dad in an authoritative manner.
We were playing another team and after a few more stones, it was finally my turn. I did not have the excuse of health to use the pushstick, although I can't remember the last time I needed to get in a crounched position and I knew i should have stretched before starting. "I can do this", I silently whispered to myself. After all, I had avidly watched olympic curling over the last week and I knew all the delivery techniques by heart. Or so I thought. Balancing myself on the broom with my left hand and gripping the stone with my right, I lifted my body and moved backward slighlty to prepare for my push off. Remembering the grace of professional curlers, I knew that they often balanced their whole body on one foot as they pushed off down the ice. Attempting the same form, I pushed off. There was little I remember after that except the laughter exploding throughout the ice house. From what I have been told, after pushing off, I promply lost my balance and with my body twisting sideways, slide onto my side. I had immedaitely let my broom fly from my hand, which after being flung from a great distance, had a great attention getting affect as the broom hit the ice. As I was continuing to slide down the ice at a fast pace, resulting from a harder than necessary push off, I was still holding onto the stone. "Let go", yelled Missy. I quickly obeyed, but by the time my brain communicated with my hand, the stone was pointing in a different direction as a result of my articulated sliding technique. Instead of gently gliding down my own sheet, the stone rocketed across the other sheets, surprisingly colliding with another stone that was halfway to its goal. With two stones out of control, rookie curlers were frantically trying to move out of the way, but were limited to a quick shuffling movement given they did not want to be on their back as was my present positon. I opened my eyes expecting ceiling, but it was Dad staring down at me. "Nice throw" he said. I thought my embarressment was done except that in the few seconds I laid prone, my woven sweater had frozen to the ice. "you need to get up quickly", the instructor hurriedly stated. With a little assitance and a lot of stares, I managed to break free. "No harm done", replied the instructor. "happens all the time". "You mean the stone flying across the other sheets", I said. "No, thats a first. I had meant falling on the ice and sticking to it", he declared.
To be continued....
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