By Dr. Curtis Varnell
I must have fallen a hundred times. My right leg wanted to go straight, my left leg wanted to go right and neither leg was going where I wanted them to. I had bruises on top of bruises, my arm was skinned and my tail end was numb from constantly landing on it- and I was having a ball. I was thirteen and just learning to skate. It was a Sunday afternoon and half the kids in my school were laughing at my antics; the other half were suffering the same maladies as I as we learned to skate.
Roller rinks were big time entertainment in most of the small towns around. William (Bill) Barnett had opened his rink near Subiaco a few years previously but I didn’t feel the call to learn until I found out that was where the gals hang out.
Many of the guys would buy soft drinks, watch the skating, or play pool on the table in the back room. Those brave enough or had the fifty cents could join the seventy or more people circling the hard-wood floor on eight wheels, each wheel with its own mind, or holding firmly to the rails and praying to stay upright as they pulled themselves around.
All-skate was a madhouse of individuals circling counterclockwise at every speed imaginable and with every skill range from expert to beginner. Great music played loudly over the speakers and drowned out the laughter and excited talk between the kids and adults enjoying a night out exercising and visiting. Mrs. Barnett ran the lighted board which announced the skating preference in cycles; girls skate only, boys skate, and reverse. Boys skate was a free for all with guys racing, knocking each other down, or showing off to the girls by showing how many coke crates you could jump and still survive.
And then came the couples skate, girl’s choice. Young ladies would invite a lucky guy to hold their hand while skating under the glow of a few colored lights, soft music playing in the background. For some, it was the earliest initiation into dating and we circled the floor with sweaty palms and a heart beating at twice the normal rate. Some of those encounters lead to life-time relationships, others to just an opportunity to talk and visit with the opposite sex.
For many teens of that era, dating consisted of church parties, occasional school dances, movies, and cruising up and down the streets of Booneville, Paris, or Charleston. Not to say it was always so innocent but life was much slower. Trips to Fort Smith were rare, phones hung on a wall and involved party lines, and T.V. consisted of three channels. I eventually learned to skate forward, sideways, and even backward; sometimes even the one I intended.