Her Roller Skates, Circa 1936
She was nine years old.
Skinny, dark haired, bright-eyed.
She loved her big family and good things to eat.
She loved speed. And her roller skates.
Whenever she could, she strapped them on
and headed for the steep hill into the city.
Her skate key hung from a string around her neck.
Her good luck charm, that would keep her safe.
Racing down the hill,
her long hair streaming behind,
nothing could stop her.
At the bottom of the hill, he did.
I told you, if I ever caught you skating down this hill,
I would take your skates away, girlie!”
“You could get yourself killed!” the policeman shouted.
She turned away, sobbing with loss and rage.
Back in the tenement, clean but cluttered ,
her mother was angry and slapped her.
But that did not sting.
What made her cry was the key that dragged
around her neck like a block of ice.
A knock at the door.
He stood there with the skates.
Here, give ’em to her. Got kids myself.
But tell her I will take ‘em and keep ‘em
if I see her skatin’ down that steep hill again.
Thank you, her mother said thickly ,
in one of the few English phrases she had learned.
So she got back her skates.
But she had lost the hill.
From that moment her roller skates
— and the world —
lost some of their brightness.
This poem is based on a true incident in my mother’s life. She told this story many times, sometimes with indignation; other times with pride. I guessed that this incident of the roller skates was the first time she had ever felt so powerless.
But it didn’t make her feel afraid for long. She grew up tough and nearly fearless. Never in my life have I ever possessed such fierceness or self confidence as my mother.
How I would have loved to have seen her roller skate!