Keeper of His Skis
The winter of my eighth grade year in junior high, my older brother Steve decided I had become a “couch potato.” I did enjoy coming home from school and having tea in front of soap operas with my mother. She and I saw nothing wrong in our down time routine. Steve did. He had recently taken up skiing while in college. He talked my father into taking me over to Waterville Hardware and purchasing me a ski set—Maverick brand wooden skis with bear claw boot clamps, leather, lace-up boots, and bamboo poles. It was my unwanted gift for the Christmas of 1965.
Right after Christmas, Steve took me to Colby College Ski Slope in Waterville. It was a tiny area with one tee bar ski lift to take people to the top of the hill. We went at night. With my gear on, I struggled to keep up with him as he charged off in front of me toward the tee bar line. Things did not get better once it was our turn to mount the tee bar. I could not get my balance on the tipsy thing and kept knocking both Steve and myself over. The lift operator patiently stopped the tee bar all four times this happened, but unfortunately Steve completely lost his patience after the fourth fiasco and picked me up underneath my armpits, dragged me to one side of the tee bar loading site, and plopped me in a snow pile. I was left there crying as I watched him go up the lift on his own.
Now Steve had a good friend by the name of Pat Roy. Pat was a twin from a large French family in Winslow. For some reason, Pat took it upon himself to comfort and convince me to try the tee bar one more time with him. He actually told me how to stand stiffly and press my feet down as the tee bar pulled us up. At the top, Pat, probably giddy with his success over my brother who was known as a “smartie” in school, also helped me position my skis in a wedge and snow plow down the slope. Steve eventually caught up with me at the end of a successful run down. He didn’t volunteer to take me skiing again on his break from college, and I didn’t ask him to either.
The next year, Steve found college friends to go to Sugarloaf with and my ski equipment collected dust in the shed. The year after that, my sophomore year in high school, I started dating John. He was a skier. I found myself going off to Eaton Mountain in Skowhegan with him and other friends. With babysitting money, I paid for some lessons and actually started enjoying the sport. John was an only child and enjoyed my brother as he got to know him on his school leaves home. My junior year found Steve, John, and I off to Sugarloaf. Sometimes they went without me. If I was included, I banged around on the bunny slope some as Steve and John skied more difficult trails. Steve gave me a faux bunny fur hat for Christmas that year and delighted in calling me a pretty ski bunny even though I showed little potential, according to him.
The next ski season found John and me on the slopes without Steve who had graduated from UMO and moved to Mobile, Alabama to take a job at Scott Paper Company down there. Then came the penniless college years and time after college paying student loans that kept us off the trails. My brother Steve occasionally traveled up to the Scott Paper Research department in Westbrook, Maine and grabbed John for ski trips. I guess it was considered too costly to bother with me on these excursions.
When our daughters turned five and eight, John and I decided to introduce them to skiing at Shawnee Peak. Steve was thrilled. Whenever he could after that, he would combine work trips with ski trips. Our daughters loved his visits. The first thing that had to be done whenever Uncle Steve arrived was to check the ski equipment. Steve’s stuff was stored at our house. One evening I was upstairs in the laundry, probably retrieving last minute necessary clothing for a ski trip, when I heard what sounded like delightful shenanigans downstairs. I looked out an upstairs bedroom window to quite the sight. John, Steve, and the girls had all donned their boots, skis, and poles and tromped out to the backyard via the atrium deck door, without any coats. The ski paraphernalia was almost as important as the skiing itself.
It was not all fun and games skiing with Uncle Steve. To save time he would wear his ski pants in the car on the hour and a half drive to Sunday River from our house in Falmouth, so the girls and I would be shivering and fussing in the back seat. He sent us a lovely fleecy car blanket after that for Christmas. Steve always needed to catch the first chair in the morning which meant getting sleepy, fussy kids going too early even for myself. He skied the last lift up in the afternoon. We still laugh at pictures of the girls sleeping with heads down on tables in the lodge while waiting for him. One year Steve found a colorful Rasta style hat for Keli whom he considered a little tiger on the trails.
In my family, we fondly joked about ABMs or able-bodied men. My father and older brother Wayne were definitely ones. John fit in, too. Steve did not. At five foot ten and 145 pounds, he was the outlier of the crowd. A standing joke between Steve and myself was who weighed more. He was always after me about my chubbiness. Unfortunately, he still did inherit the genetic defect that caused him to have a fatal heart attack at age fifty-two, ABM or not.
Steve’s ski boots were worn in memorial by his niece Keli until Thanksgiving of 2017 when they literally broke open at the toes. She now wears a helmet instead of her colorful Rasta hat, but she still cherishes it. Steve’s skis are mounted on a beam at our Sunday River condo. He always skis with me regardless of what slope I am trying awkwardly to maneuver down. I am, after all, the keeper of his skis.