By David Hughes
Growing up in the simpler times of Benton’s ‘50s and ‘60s meant a fairly limited repertoire of activities for the kids.
By “kids” I encompass a fairly wide age group including high-grade elementary through high school. Last week, we reminisced about how much the pool meant to us because it was a place to cool off and also be “seen” by one’s peers.
There was another place which offered more or less year-round fun except that instead of staying cool, everyone wanted to “look” cool and also be noticed: the skating rink.
When I was growing up the primary place to skate in Benton was in Tyndall Park in the same building used today as a community center. In the early ‘60s that was the “happening” place – especially on weekend evenings. Later, Bud’s skating Rink on Military was built and while it was much nicer, it didn’t quite have the same ambiance as Tyndall Park.
Maybe it was because it didn’t have that neat fountain in front of the building, which when the temp dropped below freezing, froze into a beautiful ice sculpture. Sometimes, in warmer months, vandals would take delight in dumping soap into the fountain, which resulted in a tsunami of soap suds but no real damage.
During my research for this piece, I found Benton had other skating rinks which – as what we youngsters say – was “before my time.” The one that surprised me was a rink at the fairgrounds. If you think about it, skating on one of those buildings out there just once around would tire you out fast (grin).
I can also remember informal skating at the Panther Den a couple of times.
Let’s just say I was an “average” skater (grin). I was one of the great unwashed who rented skates every week and learned on my own. Oh, how I envied the guys who came in with their own FANCY skates polished to a military shine. Their wheels were always shiny and well-oiled and never had grunged-up toe brakes.
But … if you wanted class in skates, nothing beat the top girl skaters. They, like the boys, had newly polished WHITE boots attached to sparking wheels that rolled so smoothly they must have had a million ball bearings on each wheel. Each young lady usually expressed her individuality by attaching colored pom-poms to her skates … usually pink.
I especially remember that during the Christmas season some of the girls would attach those little “jingle bells” to their skates.
While it was fun to watch the guys skate and show off for each other in that day’s version of a Watusi mating dance on the skate floor, there was nothing to compare to a young teenage boy’s eyes while watching the good girl skaters warming up on the floor. They positively floated and glided over the floor like ballerinas. … (sigh). Skating was broken up into segments and depending on how old you were, how well you could skate and … above all … if you had a partner of the opposite persuasion.
Most of the time was free skating and that’s where all of us herded onto the floor and TRIED to:
1. Appear cool at all times
2. Not fall down in front of the waiting area where everyone could see you. It was always best to crash and burn waaaaaaaay at the back out of sight and the jeers.
3. Never ever, ever, ever fall down in front of one of the cool kids and cause them to fall and lose face. There were other mores, but you get the idea.
If you had a partner (I never did), it was a great time because they would lower the lights, turn on the disco ball, put on a slow dance record and the couples would skate like Broadway dancers all over the rink. They would skate backwards and do the ice-skating thing where the guy would lift the girl off the floor without dropping her.
It was magic.
One of the goals of every skater was to learn how to skate backwards … acquire that thematic undulation of the feet which propelled the skater posterior-first in a graceful glide. Fortunately, your body was already aligned correctly to fall when you messed up.
Speaking of messing up … what could be worse that getting up ahead of steam skating and suddenly trip over your feet (or worse – someone else’s) and fall splat!, face down on that dirty floor looking like a road-killed possum? Embarrassment to the max … I also learned to love Dion’s music at the skating rink because such songs as “Palisades Park” got the blood flowing and increased the excitement so much.
Here’s what some folks recalled on Facebook recently about their memories of skating back in the day:
Rachel Sturm: My sister Kathy and I used to skate at the rink in Tyndall Park when we were young teenagers. Fun! It had a wooden floor and it had a swell in the back section.
Angela Pritchard: I skated on the carpet.
Glenda Henry Jenkins: Going to tell how old I’m here; I learned to skate at McDonalds in Tyndall Park, then to the one uptown at the corner of South and Market, where Gingles Furniture was, and after the skating rink it was Fred’s. Now a park. Pat’s where Lincoln Square is now was the next place. it was there in 1971. Then on to Bud’s.
Cortney Hendrix Lee: Yep, skated at Bud’s a lot as a kid. Someone tripped me skating when I was about 7 and broke my two front teeth in half!
Arletta Baggett Freeze: I remember hanging out at Bud’s every weekend. Didn’t skate well, but had fun.
That’s where I met my first boyfriend.
Melissa Robinette Brotherton: Yes, great times, music, disco ball, food, birthday parties, meet friends, boys.
Arletta Baggett Freeze: That disco ball was cool!! Reminds me of the song,” Dancing Queen”! I hung on rails more than I skated — lol — so anyway at least we can chat and have fun with it.
Susan Mitchell Shatzer: I always met my boyfriend there. ... (we actually ‘met’ at school). And yes, every weekend ... unless I was grounded...lol!! I couldn’t do all the skate dancing nor could I do the games and had to have a partner skating backwards. I wasn’t a great skater but held my own most of the time. The rails were a great place to hang out and chat!
Jane Wilmoth: I remember going skating ONE time with a church group and I fell down and busted the seat out of my toreador pants (remember those, ladies?) and was so humiliated that I stood with my back to the wall for the rest of the night! Never tried skating again.
Reba Hargrove: Lived just up the street on the corner of Tulane and Sevier...so went skating at Bud’s some ... wasn’t very easy to skate on concrete...hardwood was easier. I was pretty good at mopping up the floor too!”
While skating is still available and is an excellent way to stay healthy, today’s young people don’t flock to the simple pleasures as often as we did. Too much competition for their time and spending money.
David Hughes, who now lives in Herndon, Va., is a former Benton resident and a former staff photographer for the Benton Courier. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .View more articles in: