Boomers Had Double Runner Ice Skates

If you were a boomer raised in northern climates, chances are good that at some point you learned how to ice skate. It was an era when ice skating was a popular outdoor winter activity. People skated wherever there was frozen water: rivers, lakes, ponds, and homemade backyard rinks. Mister B has recalled, in earlier posts, skating on ice that formed in natural depressions in the landscape of a nearby neighborhood park. Yet before boys could graduate to the black and brown hockey skates, and girls got their first pair of white figure skates, the kids had to learn how to skate.

Unlike roller skates, which provided some sense of balance with four wheels under each shoe, ice skates had a single blade. Young boomers would have to learn balance and build ankle strength to become proficient. The learning tool to assist that process turned out to be centuries old; skates that use multiple blades, much in the same manner that training wheels are attached to a child’s first bicycle.

Ice skating appears to have come about as a transportation necessity in Scandinavia more than 4,000 years ago. Earliest known skates that have been discovered were made of animal leg bones, with holes drilled in them so that leather straps could be secured over the foot. However, the resulting contraptions did not glide over ice the way we might expect and were more akin to cross-country skis, requiring poles to move distances. Over time, bone was replaced by metal, and, in the 14th century, the Dutch began sharpening the metal blades in order to cut into the ice, and thereby allow the skater to glide. The recognizable push and glide motion they adopted was termed the “Dutch Roll,” a term still in use today. While it may not be known when the first multiple-blade skates were created for tiny feet, these types of children’s learning skates have been around for centuries.

Mister Boomer recalls he and his siblings had the double-bladed skates when they were first introduced to ice skating. Mister B also remembers that his sister, the youngest in the family, had a pair of the four-blade metal skates. Much like roller skates, these contained small blades at the front and back of each skate, which were strapped over existing shoes or boots. This provided a certain level of stability on the slippery surface.

At some point near the end of the 1950s, Mister B remembers it seemed difficult to move very quickly while using the double-bladed skates. Each boot had a three-sided metal runner attached to the bottom. The flat edge of the metal runs were designed to assist in balance and stability, and not for speed. Also, slushy ice could build up inside the runner, which was necessary to remove before taking the skates off for the walk home, with skates laced together and slung over a shoulder. In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, ice skates fell into the “must” category of Christmas gifts, along with socks, long johns and snow sleds; at some point, every boomer was going to be given a pair of skates. And so it was with Mister Boomer. One year, Santa replaced his double-bladed skates with the “grown-up” hockey-style skate. However, Mister Boomer had weak ankles and did not become an adequate ice skater until he began indoor roller skating in his pre-teens.

Gender-specific skates were an interesting side note to our ice skating history. The boomer years may have contributed to the more traditional slant of: boys = hockey skates, girls = figure skates. For the boys, future Hall of Fame hockey players like Bobby Orr, Stan Mikita and Gordie Howe became early idols to emulate. For the girls, an up-and-comer in the world of figure skating was fellow boomer, Peggy Fleming. She captivated young boomers, and their parents, with her grace and ease.

Peggy’s family supported her ice skating dream and moved the family, more than once, to assist in her training and development. Her mother designed and sewed all her skating outfits. Then, in 1961, a plane crash on its way to the World Championship in Brussels, killed 34 members of the U.S. skating team. Among those who died in the crash was Bill Kipp, Peggy’s skating coach. The U.S. team had to be rebuilt, and boomers and their parents watched as Peggy Fleming moved up the ranks and won her first U.S. championship in 1965, as broadcast on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Peggy was just 16 years old, and a relatable idol to boomers, especially boomer girls. A year later, she won the first of her three world titles. In 1968, she was on the U.S. Olympic team that competed in Grenoble, France. It was the first Olympics to be broadcast in color, and Peggy Fleming took home the gold medal, the only gold that the U.S. won that year.

It’s hard to say how much influence these stars on ice had on boomers’ interest in ice skating, but in Mister Boomer’s estimation, they likely hastened young boomers along in replacing their double-bladed skates as soon as possible.

How about you, boomers? Did you have four-bladed skates strapped to your boots, or did you own a pair of double-bladed skates?

Boomers Loved Elvis Christmas Music

There are many things in boomer cultural history that have lasted well beyond our Wonder Years to become classics in their own right, but perhaps none more prevalent this time of year than Christmas music from Elvis; more specifically, music from Elvis’ Christmas Album, originally released in 1957. No matter to which part of the Boomer Generation you belong, you probably have favorites and know the words to several of these songs, played annually on radio stations — and therefore our transistor radios and car radios — ever since the album first arrived.

The album was quintessential Elvis: a mix of blues, gospel and rock, with a flair that only the King could covey. The two sides of the record were divided between traditional and secular, with some standard classics and some written specifically for the record. Elvis could exercise his gospel chops on one side, and rock and blues his way through the other. It was reissued several times, including while Elvis was in the Army and was stationed in Germany.

Mister Boomer heard the songs annually on the radio, like most every other boomer. But his mother acquired the reissue of the album in 1970. When she wasn’t playing Andy Williams singing Ave Maria on the family “Victrola,” as she called the stereo (she called the refrigerator the “ice box,” so there you go), then her Christmas music of choice was the Elvis album.

Mister B was partial to the secular side. Three songs from that side were released as singles at various points in Elvis’ career, and they happen to be Mister B’s favorites from the album:
Santa Bring My Baby Back (to Me)
Blue Christmas
Santa Claus is Back in Town

Santa Bring My Baby Back (to Me) was commissioned for Elvis. The writers of the song, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, were also responsible for songs that became hits for Elvis and other people before him. The team wrote both Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock! And get this, the duo also was responsible for Santa Claus is Back In Town on the same album, written especially for Elvis!

The song, Blue Christmas, was around nearly a decade before Elvis recorded it. Written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson, it was first recorded by Doye O’Dell in 1948. That same year, Ernest Tubb released his version and had a hit with it. Subsequent releases, including orchestral instrumentals of this country-tinged classic, made it a staple on country stations at Christmastime. Elvis took it to the next level with his 1957 release. At this point, it’s Elvis who comes to mind when someone says, Blue Christmas. It is a cross-generational classic.

The traditional side had religious and pop Christmas standards, but was the side of the album that garnered the most controversy. Elvis patterned his arrangement of White Christmas after the doo wop version released by The Drifters in 1954. Their version of the song charted at R&B stations, but did not gain widespread radio airplay. Then Elvis’ version hit the airwaves. When Irving Berlin — yes, THAT Irving Berlin — heard his song performed by Elvis, he went ballistic. Bing Crosby had made White Christmas famous in 1942, and by the 1950s, it had attained classic status. So, Berlin thought Elvis was destroying his music. He called radio stations and tried to have the Elvis record banned from airplay. For the most part, stations ignored him, though some Canadian station chose not to play it.

OK, boomers! What is your favorite Elvis Christmas song? Did you have the 45 RPM singles or the album?