It was February 1968, and our family, along with the rest of the nation and much of the world, was swept up in the drama and glory of the Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France. For the first time, the Games were televised in color, but not in our small family room; my parents didn’t buy our first color TV set until the following year.
It’s the first Olympic Games I can remember. I was five, and my sister Joan was eight; we were the youngest of five kids. We knew nothing of geopolitics yet and were oblivious to the significance of Germany sending two teams—one from the East and one from the West—to the Olympics.
But we were no strangers to winter sports and enjoyed our own versions of the games. Our town of Irondequoit is situated between Rochester, New York, to the south and Lake Ontario to the north, directly in the path of the Great Lakes snow belt. Although winters may have only seemed longer and darker back then, they were almost certainly snowier. Storms would dump feet of snow that plows would then push into 8-foot piles up and down our street, ready-made for snow-pants sledding. Inches of hard-packed snow blanketed side streets like ours for weeks or even months on end. We played countless games of street hockey and latched onto the bumpers of passing cars for daring, long slides down the block. Our mom didn’t blink twice if she looked out the back window and saw us hurtling ourselves off the garage roof into the snow. My big brother, Mark, called my favorite wool hat with the button chin strap a “crash helmet.”
French alpine skier Jean-Claude Killy won three gold medals at the 1968 Olympics, and we were thrilled to watch as Jim McKay called the races. But it was figure skater Peggy Fleming who captured the hearts and imaginations of Joan and me that year. For both of us, one memory from those games stands out clearly.
It was long past dark and after supper, probably around 7:00 p.m. Joan and I bundled up in our hand-me-down winter gear—yes, we used Wonder Bread bags to line our boots—and struck out for the three-quarter mile walk to Wegmans to buy treats for that evening’s Olympics. Street lamps lined most of our route, casting a wan light against the gray-black sky.
I can only recall snippets of the actual outing—keep in mind I was only five—but I remember a wonderful sense of exhilaration as we “skated” to the market as “Peggy Fleming,” with “Dick Button” announcing our twirls, jumps, and spins. I remember feeling fearless and protected by my eight-year-old sister. I remember feeling free and like anything was possible even though the world was big and we were small.
Joan and I were back home in probably just over an hour, settling in front of the TV with our family, Jim McKay, and Dick Button. I don’t recall if we had asked permission that night before tramping off into the cold and dark, and if we didn’t, our mother may or may not have noticed our absence. Either way, everything turned out fine. Peggy Fleming brought home the gold, and we were equally happy with our Jujyfruits and Mallo Cups.