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Love at the Skating Rink

by Tom Paré

“Her hair was a reddish colour like that movie star Rhonda Fleming, and it had shoulder length curls. Yes sir. She was a looker.”

Dark came early in January of 1946. Streetlights came on before suppertime. 13 year-old Josephine Avenue Gang boys hurried through their dinners and raced to the park with skates tied together and slung over their backs. If the streets were iced over or at least really hard-packed, a guy could lace on his skates inside the house, clump sideways down the wood steps, and usually in groups of four or five, race over to Shore Acres Park and skate until the rink closed at about ten o’clock.

There were actually two rinks side by side with an opening cut through at each end so you could skate from one to the other. The park had a little confectionary operated by an old silver-haired Englishman who played music from the jukebox through the outdoor speakers. He knew all the kids by name and loved to tell them about the olden days when he and his lady-friends, as he called them, used to skate to the music of Guy Lombardo, Artie Shaw, Glen Miller, and the other big bands. But, as he explained, his bursitis, arthritis, and his trick knee forced him to give up skating, much to the regret of his ladies.

On this night, the boy did not go to the rink with the gang. Barbara, a girl who lived on Campbell, the next street over, had come into Greens Drug Store that afternoon while the boy was working and sat down at the soda fountain. He built her a huge banana split with extra cherries and walnuts, threw in some pineapple topping and covered it all with whipped cream. Of course, as was his habit with girls, he didn’t collect the forty-five cents. Instead, he rang up the “no sale” keys on the register so that Mr. Green wouldn’t think there was anything funny going on. He kinda liked her, but she was a member of the Young Ladies Sodality at Holy Name Church, and besides that, everyone knew that she went to Confession and Holy Communion every week. She didn’t seem to mind stealing a banana split though, he thought.

Anyway, Barbara asked him if he had to go skating with the guys every night. Did he ever go alone? Didn’t he ever skate with girls? Was he afraid the gang would laugh at him if he did? He wiped his hands on his chocolate stained apron, and with hands on the counter top, he leaned over and almost with a sneer, said that he could do anything he wanted with whomever he chose, and that included skating with girls. Lots of girls! Barbara grinned and said that if he would come to her house just before the streetlights came on, they could go skating together as long as she was home by ten o’clock. Then she dabbed the corners of her mouth with her napkin, smiled at him one more time, and bounced out of the soda parlour leaving her banana split half eaten.

The boy carefully dumped the rest of the split into the garbage and thought about what to tell the gang. Actually, the rules of the brotherhood were that you were allowed to go out skating or to the show with a girl, but on the next day, you had to tell the rest of the gang everything that happened. The only thing that bothered him was this Young Ladies Sodality thing and the weekly Sacraments. He did not care to be mentioned in someone else’s confession, that’s for sure. But she was pretty. Her hair was a reddish colour like that movie star Rhonda Fleming, and it had shoulder length curls. Yes sir. She was a looker. A couple of weeks ago, he spotted Phil Power walking her home, and it looked like he was carrying her books. Maybe Phil liked her too. That’s too bad, he thought.

When the boy got off work at four o’clock, he actually slud all the way home. Sludding is when you kinda run about four or five steps, and then you put your feet almost sideways and slide, sometimes for ten feet or more. That’s sludding. Anyway, he slud home, gulped down his supper-sandwiches, found a pair of hockey socks with no holes, flung his skates over his shoulder, and slud over to Barbara’s house, beating the streetlights by ten minutes.

She was waiting on their glass porch as if she knew he would be early. Her white skates were by the door, and she had a pair of earmuffs kinda wrapped around one skate, with her knitted gloves stuffed into the other one. Barbara’s mom told them to have a good time, be home early, and helped button up her coat. Her dad said he knew the boy’s father from church, and wondered if he was still working in the States. And he told the boy to have his dad stop over some time for a little get-together and a toddy. The boy wondered why her dad was so anxious to talk about his dad. And what the heck was a toddy?
All the way over to Shore Acres Rink, Barbara talked and giggled and said that she was glad he worked at the soda fountain.

Shore Acres Hotel & Roadhouse opened in 1925 and soon
became a popular place for skating dates and budding romances.

What a coincidence it was, she said, that she walked in to have a banana split, and lo and behold, there he was. And he felt glad that it happened that way. It was snowing now, and her hair glistened in the streetlights. She ran a step or two ahead catching snowflakes with her tongue, and with each success she would turn and show him while walking backwards.

“Come on, you try it,” she teased.

“Naw,” he responded. “I never was good at that stuff.”

“Bet you were. I’ll bet you are good at anything you want. I know you are a good baseball player.”

“How do you know that?” he asked in surprise.

“Because Geraldine Watson and I watched you play at Wilson Park in the summer league,” she said while jumping up to trap another snowflake.

“I bet you wouldn’t come to the park to watch me catch snowflakes.”

“Maybe I would. Maybe I just would,” she teased, and then spun around and rubbed noses with him. “Maybe I really would.”

She sat on the bench and he helped her with her skates, tightening the laces as she placed her foot on his thigh. He thought to himself that it felt kinda good to help a girl.

When both skates were tightened and he had laced up his own, Barbara held out her hand, and he helped her up and led her to the ice.

This Frank Sinatra guy was singing “I’ll Be Seeing You” on the juke box, and Barbara took off her right glove and placed her bare hand in his, and off they went around and around the rink, sometimes not talking at all, and other times giggling and even singing along.

When the music changed to “Racing With the Moon” by Vaughn Monroe, they tried to imitate his deep baritone voice between fits of laughter.

When she got cold, they went into the confectionary, where the silver-haired Englishman complimented him on his “lady-friend” and served them each a cup of hot chocolate. Then back out to the rink until it was time to go home.

They walked back to her house holding hands and just talking about how glad she was that he wanted to go skating with her, and he told her that it sure was lucky that she came into the soda parlour, and then she smiled to herself. As they neared her house, she released his hand and put her glove back on. The front porch light was on so she motioned him to the side door. They just stood there with the snow falling on her face and hair, and he thought about what a good time he had, and suddenly he lifted his head toward the sky and caught a snowflake on his tongue.

“Well. Whattaya know, whattaya say? he laughed. “How about that?”

“I told you would be good at anything” she said, grinning in a funny way.

Then she said it was time to go in, took his hand, and kissed him. She opened the door and started in. He started to leave and she called him back to the door.

“Thank you,” she said. Then she leaned over and rubbed noses with him and her lips brushed his cheek. And the door closed.

He walked with his back to the wind, watching her house. He could feel the snow pelt the back of his head, melt, and then run down his back, and he shivered. But he wasn’t cold. For some reason he was out of breath, and his stomach trembled, and his thoughts raced back to a few moments ago, when he and the girl stood by the side door of her house. And he walked home slowly, catching the occasional snowflake with his tongue, looked back once or twice, and smiled to himself.


 

 

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