August 18th…“DID YOU EVER LEARN TO ROLLER SKATE? WHERE? AND WHEN?”
My initiation into this rousing, rolling recreation came in the form of a traveling roller rink tent that visited our village of Kiester, Minnesota. Visits to our town by this fabric phenomena were common in the late 1950’s and into the early 1960’s. Townfolk have shared that the roller rink was often set up in the town park, but my recollection was when I saw it set up in the parking lot next to the Kee Lanes Bowling Alley. That colossal, cone-topped cornucopia of fun was like a magnet and it was as if a circus had come to town. Only, in this case, this was to be a circus where WE were the performers as we’d lace up some roller skates and ply that oblong “stage” round n round n round.
With the enticement of the roller rink being in town, there was a bit more energy in getting the milking of our cows, and other chores, done for the evening. We took advantage of the lingering late afternoon summer sun as we cleaned up from chores and happily loaded ourselves into our family car for the three mile ride into town. Having arrived at the rink, and in the golden light of late afternoon, our elder brother and sister saw to it that we little ones were fitted for kid-sized roller skates. The sultry humidity of the Minnesota evenings necessitated that the roller rink’s side tent curtains be rolled up to allow the cooling prairie winds to course through the rink as it refreshed the many skaters that now cruised that impressive wooden, oblong floor.
What a hilarious sight it must’ve been, with wheeled skates on my feet, as I hugged the sidelines of that oblong rink floor with these rolling contraptions that seemed to go everywhere I DIDN’T want my feet to go!!
Of course, I envied anyone who seemed to have this feat of balancing on wheels mastered. I should’ve had a pillow tied to my butt, because I spent more time bouncing on my back cheeks than I did rolling upright on my skates.
As I hung onto the tent’s side rails for support, I thrilled to watch my two elder siblings, and others, as they’d race around that oblong “stage” while they’d shimmy and pulsate their arms in a form of dance while listening to the rock n roll tunes of that era like “Duke Of Earl”, “Runaway” and “It’s Now Or Never” by the “king” known as Elvis Presley.
For me though, as a simple farm boy, my young body was used to good ol’ terra firma beneath my feet, so this novice was intensely focusing on not crashing from being a human on wheels.
I was starting to get the knack of this new wheeled fun experience when I noticed a large electronically lit reader board on the main mast poles of the skating rink. To put some variety into each evening’s skating experience, the rink owners would tell the crowd what new skating was going to take place next by lighting up one of the many signs on the board. For instance, maybe the sign REVERSE would light up. Then, if you could do it, all skaters had to skate backwards, etc. etc..
Now even though I was only knee high to a burp, regarding love and life, I still enjoyed the times when the electric skating rink reader board would light up the sign that said “COUPLES” skate. The tent lights would be dimmed and a spot light shot its laser beam to hit the rotating mirror ball that hung from a high point in the rink’s rigging.
Hundreds and hundreds of tiny mirror panels on that ball ricocheted magic onto the tent walls as a love ballad (like Theme From A Summer Place) would play out over the sounds system. Diamond flecks of light, from that mirror ball, turned everyone and everything into moving jewels for that special skating moment. One of the big romantic hits of that day was the ballad called “Johnny Angel” by Shelley Fabares. Young lovers, that evening, melded together on those roller skates as they were transported by these lilting songs and for a few moments were caught up in their own dreamworld of love. It was a sweet moment, as I recall it.
Not only did the young folk of our town enjoy roller skating, but, it turns out, the roller rink was a magnet that drew most of our town’s teenage culture out to show off their latest cars and motorcycles. Spinner hubcaps, foam dice hanging from rear view mirrors and sparkling paint jobs made the parking lot next to the Kee Lanes Bowling Alley the place to be to enjoy cordial conversations as the now night winds carried the sounds of laughter, music and roller skates into the heart of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.