My son and daughter stayed with my mom a few nights this week while my wife heals from surgery and I was out of town. It was good thing. My son shoots too many aliens and zombies for my taste, but I have no one to blame other than myself for that. I regaled him too much when he was younger of how we used to play all out war in the woods behind my grandma’s house when we were his age and how powerful and manly it made us feel. That was in the 80s when the video games we had cost a quarter for three lives and there was no such thing as “respawning” (if you don’t know what that is, ask anyone between 5 and 20 years of age). Oh, and you didn’t kill zombies back then. You ran from ghosts who were trying to keep you from ridding the streets of annoying dots. Unless, that is, you sank your teeth into one of the really big dots in each of the four corners of your map. Then it was time to dole out justice on Stinky, Stanky, Clanky, and Deb. Those may not be the accurate names for the ghosts, but I think I’m close.
Anyway, that was gaming back in what I like to call the Days Of Good Ol’ and a lot has changed since then.
Okay, back to my kids staying with “Mema”.
To get them out of the house and moving, my mom took them skating and when I saw the picture my sister put on Facebook, I was transported once again to the Days Of Good Ol’ because a large portion of my own childhood was spent in a building that predominantly featured an oval skating floor, but also boasted a concession stand with the BEST tasting pizza and an arcade that ate lots of my mother’s quarters while I tried to save a dotted grid from Plumpy, Stumpy, Tito, and Fred.
There was a time when we spent every single Friday and Saturday night at “The Rink”. The whole family became adept at skating, though each went our own way when it came to style.
My mother kept us grounded with her easy going and simple manner, opting to calm you as you watched her skate and lull you into complacency before suddenly rocking your world with a sweet turn on the beat, so that before you can say, “Su-su-sudio”, she’s rolling backward like a boss.
My sister was graceful as well, but took it up a notch thanks to her love of watching ice dancing. For my sister, skating backward was child’s play. She developed a flair for the dramatic and before the night was over, you could bet that she would break out the old Hamil Camel and a spin or two. I always suspected she wanted to try the Scott Hamilton back flip, but I never saw her make that attempt. She actually ended up competing and placing in a roller skating competition once and probably still has the trophy.
As for me, I was the energized ball of energetic energy. I was given my first pair of skates when I was four and thrown into the rink among everyone else to either survive or die a painful death from decapitation by Zinger. (Don’t know what a Zinger is? Ask anyone between 50 and 70 years of age that had a pair of skates.) I learned quickly and became the blur or streak that flew past you trailing a gust of wind that would pull the corn dog right out of your hand and the quarters right out of your pockets. In fact, for a short time, we became fast friends with the family that owned the rink and before ownership changed hands, we would be allowed to get in early. The owner’s son, who was also a blur, and I would race around the rink and see who could go the fastest. During open hours, for people’s safety, meh meh meh, we would be told to slow down; not that we listened very much.
There are other memories, though, that make the rink such a blessed part of my childhood. We became close to the second owners for a while as well and my sister forged a lifelong friendship with their daughter that lasts to this day. I grew up watching the older kids find dark corners on the side benches and make out like lips were food and they’d been stranded in a desert.
I became the boyfriend of and subsequently broke up with one of my major crushes – all in one night – at the rink. I had a few weeks of fame as I became popular with the high school kids because my hand was small and I had figured out how to reach it up into the framework of the pool table, pull a lever, and release the balls without having to pay for it. It didn’t take long before the pool table got fixed.
There was popcorn and cotton candy and hard falls, both in love and on the concrete floor. There was the Hokey Pokey and the Dice Game and couple skating and driving the DJ crazy asking for requests. There was the guy in the Ref shirt with the whistle that all the little kids were scared of but nobody else took seriously. In a different town, but still The Rink, my mom met the man she’s now been married to for over 30 years. She’s happy. It’s where I smashed my face into the wall because I was going too fast and couldn’t stop and so now I have a thin, barely noticeable scar under my chin.
At the rink, we learned how to fix loose stoppers and wobbly wheels ourselves and it’s where we got to finally try out the speed skates we’d graduated to. Speed skates. The only thing that made them different from the regular ones was the fact that they were black with white stripes, usually shorter at the ankle, and were perpetually outfitted with a set of neon Zingers. Okay, so Zingers are a certain brand of wheels and they made you a god.
I have to stop this trip down memory lane because now I’m getting all watery eyed and I’m starting to sense a hint of the melody from Dancin’ On The Ceiling creeping into my mind. If I don’t stop, I’ll sing it all day or take up clogging.
I was proud to see those photos of my kids doing what once brought such joy to my life and I’m glad my mom and sister get to share that with them. They have new things now, like rolling cage bar thingies the little ones can hold onto to keep from falling and further wuss-ify our youth. What’s wrong with lying on the rink floor curled up in a fetal position, crying out for mommy, as millions of skaters zoom past?
A few years ago, my sister hung up her skates for a while after a serious fall at the rink where she suffered a concussion that I swear still affects her.
It was a big deal, not only for her to lace the skates back on, but to get out there and even spin into a backwards position. She found the courage to take back something fear had stolen and I’m proud of her for that, even if she shouldn’t have been trying that Scott Hamilton flip in the first place.