Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief.
– Jane Austen
Have you ever had a terrible day when someone says, “You’ll laugh about this in the future?” Do you want to smack them with a pool noodle? Well, don't; they are right.
Matt’s friend fixed us up for a blind date. We were both breaking up with our partner, so Matt and I chatted on the phone, sharing words of woes and support, and became friends.
A second date also went well, lunch at a local diner, where we talked for hours. Then I didn’t hear from him for a few weeks and figured he’d gotten back with his girlfriend. So when he did call, I realized how much I’d missed him.
I felt so happy to hear his voice, that when he invited me to go skiing I said, “Sure, sounds like fun!”
“I’ll pick you up at eight on Friday.”
“Yes, the Glacier has lights. Lots of people ski at night.”
I hung up and wanted to smack myself with a pool noodle. What was I thinking? I’d never been skiing in my life! I had no skis or whatever else is required. What should I wear?
I called my best friend, Rosemary, whose four brothers covered every sport imaginable. She consulted with the skiing brother and said, “It will be okay, Maddy. They rent all the stuff you’ll need at the slopes. Just wear layers.”
“Layers of what?”
“Wow. Bra, t-shirt, long-sleeved blouse, and a ski jacket? You know, to stay warm? Geeze, should I come over and dress you, My Lady?”
“No, but may I borrow a ski jacket?”
“Sure, and I’ll bring ski pants too.”
“What color is it?”
“Eye shadow.” I heard her laugh as she hung up.
I believed a third date was a commitment of sorts and prepared carefully. I applied two layers of foundation, blush, three layers of eyeliner (top and bottom lids), blue eye shadow, false eyelashes, and pale pink lipstick. As was the fashion in the early 1960s, I ‘ratted’ my hair into a fright wig, then carefully brushed the outside into a smooth, abundant French twist that would have made Amy Winehouse proud, then sealed it with multi coats of Aqua Net.
Matt picked me up looking like an ad for a skiing magazine and said, “You look nice.”
“Thank you. So, where is this Glacier?”
He grinned; wow, what a nice smile. “It’s really called The Alpine Village, but has the nickname, Glacier, because this part of Michigan has warm spells, so the snow melts and refreezes into solid ice.”
“So, what happens?”
“Snow machines make new powder when it’s cold enough.”
“Huh. Cool.” Cool? I'd never used that word before.
Alpine Village glowed against the night like Vegas, and I bet these days, it would be visible from space. I got out of the car and pulled on Rosemary’s ski suit, which felt tight over three layers of tops. My arms barely bent at the elbow and I feared I’d end up like Ralphie’s brother in The Christmas movie.
We entered a small cozy shop where I smelled hot chocolate and popcorn. Elvis sang, "It's Now or Never" in the background.
Matt rented my skis, and we sat on a bench outside as he attached them to my boots. Yikes. This was really happening! I wanted to back out, but in for a penny in for a pound. He’d already paid for lift tickets and my rentals, so I resolved to stay and do my best. I looked up at the towering white hill sprinkled with skiers gliding effortlessly toward the bottom and thought, how hard could it be, right?
I awkwardly stood, slid backward, and plopped back onto the bench. I rose again, held my chin high, and struggled to shuffle forward.
A tall, middle-aged man wooshed up to us, “Hi, Matt! good to see you again!”
Matt introduced me to Vince, his friend and ski instructor. Matt assured me that Vince would give me a quick lesson and I was in capable hands, then skied away. I did my best to follow the instructions while wondering how I’d do anything with two-by-fours strapped to my feet. After a few tips about knee bends and leaning, Vince took me to the ‘Bunny Hill’ where kids zoomed around us like little pros, and I relaxed. A bit.
“Okay, bend and lean like I showed you. You’ll do great!”
I slid about five feet down the slope and stopped dead.
“How did you do that?!”
“I don’t know, they’re stuck or something.” Lord, help me.
“Wow, this has never happened in my ten years of teaching. I can fix it; they used the wrong wax for these conditions."
I had no words.
Vince told me to stay there, like I had a choice, and returned with fresh pair of skis. “These are much better.”
I silently disagreed. This pair was very “Slippy,” as my Pittsburgh relatives would say, and I soldiered on. The Bunny Hill had a tow rope that I learned to grab, and it hauled me to the top. I completed three trips and felt proud, thinking, I can do this!
Matt returned, and I noticed his cute dimples when he smiled. “Okay! Let’s ski!”
He grabbed my hand, and we slid to the lift chairs.
This is when things went sideways. I’m a person who avoids escalators; in fact, they terrify me. It’s the awkward timing of knowing just when to embark and then disembark while retaining a bit of decorum. Mom often took me to J.L. Hudson’s in Detroit, a many-storied department store with the narrowest and fastest escalators in the world, at least to me. These lift seats gave me that same tight, panicky feeling. Would I make it halfway aboard, fail, then get dragged to the top by one foot?
Luckily, I got on easily. What a relief. I settled in with Matt next to me and enjoyed the ride, telling myself things will be okay. After all, I’d mastered the Bunny Hill and made it this far.
I took a deep breath and gazed to my right. Then it happened. WOOSH, SPLAT! The Universe aligned me with the snowmaker, and a gazillion homemade snow crystals blasted me.
“OOF! AH!” It took my breath away, as well as my hair pins and Aqua Net helmet. I felt my lovely coiffe fly out behind me like a dead squirrel. Mascara ran into my eyes, turning me into a blind raccoon having a panic attack. Then my eyes really burned - ouch.
It happened so fast that Matt didn’t notice, and when he turned toward me, he must have seen What?” I could only imagine his expression. I heard him gasp, “What? How? Are you okay?”
“No! I CAN’T SEE! don’t let me fall!”
We wore heavy leather mittens, which did nothing helpful. I had no hankie or tissue anyway, so the makeup continued to scorch my eyes. I felt a large lump form in my throat, and despite all my efforts to avoid it, I began to cry, thinking Matt probably saw the bride of Frankenstein with black and blue raccoon eyes and a scary face scrunched up in pain.
“Oh!” He said. Was that horror or concern? Maybe both. I felt his warm arm around my shoulders, “I’ve got you. We’re almost to the top. It will be fine. Just relax.”
Relax? Oh my God, the top! How would I get back to the bottom?
My nose dribbled, eyes spewed black and blue tears. My hair probably returned to a fright wig. Then a line of false eyelashes fluttered onto my ski jacket, looking like a huge black spider! I screeched and proceeded to beat it to death with mittened hands. That must have been attractive.
Matt helped me off of the lift chair and led me to the side lest the next load of unfortunates bowled us over. My sight slowly returned, but it was blurry. He removed his mittens, stuffed them into his pockets, and pulled out a small package of Kleenex! More tears flowed, and I hoped Matt saw them as makeup tears.
He did his best, patting my face dry, then held a tissue to my nose and said, “Blow.” I did, feeling like a four-year-old (my apologies to any four-year-old reading this.) He removed his red ski cap, gathered my hair up, and pushed it into the cap, pulling it down over my eyes, but by then, I didn’t care. I just wanted to go home.
“There. Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” I lied while lifting his hat up off of my face.
“I think you’ve had enough for one night. Want to leave?”
He led me to a bench, removed our skis, then walked me down a side stairway mercifully leading to the back of the store. I washed my face in the bathroom. The towel dispenser was a continuous fabric roll, so I dried my face while hunched under it, feeling blessed that I had the room to myself. I stood, looked into the mirror, and saw a sad face with red eyes, a runny red nose, a matching ski cap perched atop hair sticking out in all directions, and a garnish strip of eyelashes.
Matt drove his car near the shop door, and I climbed into its lovely warmth as Johnny Tillitson sang “Poetry in Motion.” I laughed at the irony.
He flashed that smile and asked, “So, do you want to go to a movie next week?”
That was fifty years, two children, and seven grandchildren ago.