A Child of the Fifties

by Paul Schroder

Chapter 7

Spring weather was holding. I had some roller skates I'd received from Santa. You remember him, don't you? He's the old fella with the bad smelling breath that didn't give me the bb gun he owed me. The poopy head.

Anyways, the skates were pretty neat. They would simply clamp onto your shoes. They didn't work on my sneakers as they required a hard sole to clamp onto. But once I got them clamped onto my dress up shoes (the only hard soled shoes I owned) and adjusted I could skate up a storm.

Unfortunately there wasn't enough polish in the world to make these shoes usable as a dress shoe again. Mother just smacked herself in the forehead and shook her head. She told Father, "we bought the darn things for him, we should have been thinking ahead."

Besides wearing out the tops of the shoes in the learning process, there was immense wear on the butt and knees. With practice though, I could sail around the neighborhood on the smoother parts of the sidewalks. The street was too rough to skate on and would vibrate you until you ended up peeing in your pants.

Me and Jimmy both had a pair. We would have races between his house and mine on the sidewalk. I would usually win because he hadn't learned the trick of hopping over the expansion joints. He would keep getting tripped up by the darn things and go flying.

I was instructing him on the fine art of hopping over those joints because he no longer had band-aids on just his knees, he was now sporting one on his chin as well.

My oldest brother, Billy, came slowly cruising by us in my parents station-wagon, watching us. He had probably been sent to the store by mother because he only got the opportunity to drive if she had an errand for him.

I was right about his probable trip to the store because he was carrying a couple of sacks of groceries up to the house. And me and Jimmy had cruised up to the house as well. I was thinking the two of us could do with a glass of water but I didn't want to go through the hassle of taking off my skates to go into the house. We carefully walked across the lawn towards the spigot on the side of the house and just drank from the hose.

Billy came out and told us we were looking pretty good on those skates. Of course that puffed up our six year old egos to the extreme. And then he says

"Ya know, there's a skating rink in town where you can rent professional skates and skate indoors in a huge rink. You don't have to fall down on scratchy old concrete cuz the floor is wood.

Jimmy and I just sigh because we know that isn't in our near futures. It does sound grand though, and I think we need to start nagging our parents to take us there.

"So, how about this," he continues. "What if I get Ma's permission to drive you and me and Jimmy and Rachel over there?" Rachel is Billy's girlfriend.

"I can afford to rent your shoes and Rachel's and my own, but Jimmy, you would need to ask your mother for money to rent your skates. Kids under 12 skate free today so you don't need money to skate."

Jimmy is jumping up and down right along side of me.

"How much are the skates?" he asks.

"They cost twenty cents. Try to get a little extra for snacks though. I can't afford to treat all of us."

Jimmy's head is nodding up and down so hard I expect his eyes to fall outa his head. He spins around and skates for his home. Well, it's sorta like skate-trip, skate-trip, skate-trip.

I turn to my brother and ask, "why are you being nice to us?"

Now, Billy is nothing like my brother Dick, and doesn't play mean jokes on me. He mostly ignores me which, in a way, can be even more mean to a little guy than playing tricks on him.

He gets down on one knee to bring us into eye level.

"What do you mean?" he asks. "I'm always nice to you. I'm not Dick, you know."

"I know that. But you never talk to me or do things with me."

My brother is kinda silent for a minute.

"You know what, Paul. You're right. And I'll try to make up for that in the future. But you need to help me and remind me when you think I'm ignoring you, okay?"

Well, I grow a grin and nod my head up and down.

"Aunt Rowana says you're pretty nice for a teenager," I tell him.

It's his turn to grin. "What else does she say."

"Well, she says you have the biggest wiener she ever did see."

Billy pops back up to his feet. "WHAT... how... when did she say that?"

"On her last visit," I reply, surprised at such a violent response. I know I'm always happy when people say nice stuff about me.

Billy is turning red, like all over! "Tell me everything you can remember that she said about me."

"Ummmm... well, she said she had to be careful changing your diapers or you would pee all over her."

Billy's shoulders just slump and he lets out a woosh of air.

"Thank God," he says, "I thought maybe he saw me with Rachel. That girl always causes me to wood up." Then he realizes who he's talking to and he quickly changes the subject.

"Well, let's go ask Ma for permission. Your friend should be back soon."

Permission was granted from mother and Jimmy's mother as well. The four of us were in my parents station-wagon on our way to the indoor skate arena. Jimmy and me are super excited. We've only skated on the sidewalk before.

Rachel is scootched up to my brother while he's driving.

I tell her, "Be careful, Rachel. If you make him wood up he may have an accident."

This causes the car to wobble a little. Rachel kind of scoots away from my brother in order to look over her shoulder at me.

"Did you just say what I thought you said?" she asks me.

"Yup," I reply. "Pinocchio was clumsy when he was wood. If you turn Billy to wood he might get clumsy too." Perfectly logical, I'm certain.

The back of Billy's neck is real, real red. Rachel looks at him and grins and says, "did you tell him I make you turn to wood?"

Billy just sighs... "fricken kid."

But she just slides over next to him again. After a second the car wobbles a little bit.

Rachel laughs and says, "well, well. He wasn't lying was he?"

The rest of the drive to the skate rink was kind of erratic. I was thinking that maybe I should have kept my mouth shut.

The skating rink is fantastic! It's huge! I bet a kabillion people could skate in here. The floors are wood and look easy on the knees if you fall. There is nothing to trip on, unless you're like Jimmy and can trip over your own shadow. His little sister had drawed a hopscotch design on the sidewalk by their house and Jimmy skates around it. He's afraid of tripping over the chalk marks.

There is a wooden barricade surrounding the skating area. It is a little over waist high to a teenager but comes up to me and Jimmy's arm pits. There are places to sit and rest outside the barricade and also a skate rental booth and a snack bar.

It's really loud in there too, which sorta adds to the excitement. Kids are laughing and yelling. There is music playing over loudspeakers overhead. And everything just seems to echo off the walls of the place. Me and Jimmy look at each other like we just found ourselves in Disneyland.

Billy gets everyone some skates. Both me and Jimmy have to turn ours back in for a larger pair. Billy helps me tie up mine and Rachel helps Jimmy. We take our street shoes to the back wall where there's like a million cubbyholes for people to store their shoes.

Now these skates are way different from what we are used to. Instead of just slippery old metal wheels, the wheels are made of hard rubber. Billy says there are bearings in them to make them roll easy. And under the toe is a big old rubber bumper on both skates. Billy says this is a brake and he will show us how to use it.

"Go out and practice on your own," he tells us. Me and Rache will kinda watch you from time to time to see how you're doing."

We push open the swinging gate on the barricade and kind of tip toe out onto the rink. We stand there holding onto the barricade waiting for a clear space to skate into. The place is packed with kids about our age. Shoot, it's free skate day so you can expect it.

I see an opening and I use my arms to push off of the barricade. I'm no neophyte. I've learned on some pretty crappy skates so I find myself doing okay. I make a full swing around the entire arena and come up on poor Jimmy, pretty much where we had started. He's just using the barricade to kind of pull himself along. It's like pull...roll...stop, pull...roll...stop. You get the picture.

I find that by dragging one of my toes, the rubber bumper will slow and then stop me.

"What's wrong Jimmy?"

"I'm scared, Paul. These skates are way high and they roll to easy. When I move my legs I just wobble. I like my own skates more better."

"Here, Jimmy. Just hold my hand and I'll pull you, okay?"

He nods his head and reaches for the hand I'm holding out to him. I need to get him skating and liking it so he'll want to come back again. I'm loving this place.

All of a sudden there is a loud voice over the loudspeakers. "Okay everyone. It's partner skate. Grab your partner's hand. Singles... look for someone to skate with or get off the floor.

Jimmy and I are grinning at each other cuz we beat everybody to it. I was pulling Jimmy along and he was starting to get more relaxed. He's figured out how to lean on the skate edges to make himself steer and he's starting to have fun.

There are a whole bunch of adolescent boys sitting outside the arena. They aren't about to hold another boy's hand just to skate and no girls will skate with them because the girls are partnered up with each other.

There are a couple of sneery remarks made as we pass this one group of boys. It happens on each turn around the arena. And it's starting to take the fun out of skating for us. They call us "boyfriends" and ask "which one is the girl." You know, that sort of stuff.

I pull us over more to the middle of the arena. Billy and Rachel skate by us. Rachel looks at us and does a double take. She says something to Billy and he looks over at us too. He get's a frowny face and pulls up close to us.

"Get behind us, guys. We are going to go to the snack-bar."

Well that sounds good to me and so we follow them. Billy opens the gate and slip out from the flow of traffic. Rachel turns around and gets down on one knee in front of Jimmy.

I just then realize that Jimmy has tears coursing down his cheeks. And I take a surprised breath. Jimmy is looking down because he is sort of embarrassed. Before she can ask him anything and embarrass him even more I speak up.

"It's those big boys that make fun of use when we skate by them. They call us boyfriends and ask which one is the girl and stuff."

Jimmy just nods his head yes. I didn't realize how bad those guys were making him feel. He just kind of sniffs and wipes his eyes with backs of his hands.

"I'm all right," he says.

Billy says "point those boys out to me, Paul."

Well, it's still partner skate, and so those boys are still sitting there. I point towards them. Billy turns to Rachel and tells her to "take the boys to get a coke, and I'll be right back."

Well I know he's going to intercede for us and so does Jimmy. Jimmy looks at me and grins. His cheeks could still use a napkin.

Me and Jimmy get an ice cream cone instead of a coke. My mother doesn't want me drinking coke because when she was a little girl it had cocaine in it. Also, we're Mormons and we aren't allowed to drink coke or coffee or tea. That's kind of funny, I discover later, because the Mormon church owns Coca Cola.

We're all sitting on a bench watching my big brother. Instead of skating over to those boys, he skated to the manager's office instead. He talked to the manager for a minute and the manager followed him over to those boys. The man stood there with his hands on his hips and had just a few words to say to them. Billy told us what those words were when he got back.

"Take those skates off and turn them back in. You guys are leaving. Kids come here to have a good time, not to get bullied. I'm going to remember your faces and I don't expect to see you back here for at least a month. Do you understand?"

Now, the manager is a big man with a pot belly and you definitely wouldn't want him sitting on you. The boys nodded their heads and said yes-sir and started taking off their skates. I think they were even more embarrassed than they made Jimmy. Jimmy looked at me with ice-cream smeared around his lips and nose and gave me a crinkle eyed grin.

The rest of the day went great. They opened the floor back up to single's skate and Jimmy felt confident enough to try it on his own. Soon he was even trying to skate backwards, like me. We were both disappointed when it was time to turn in our skates and go home.

Polliwogs are baby frogs. I didn't know that. But, at six, there were lots of things I didn't know.

We had a pond not too far from our house. It took about ten minutes to bike over there. There was also an irrigation culvert that went by the pond. We were ordered by my parents to stay away from that swiftly flowing stream. Kids have drowned in there before, I was told. Since I couldn't swim yet, you didn't have to warn me twice. But there was no way you were going to keep me away from that pond.

Besides polliwogs, there were frogs of all sizes, little fishes, ducks and, in the spring time, little duckies. They were super cute and were fun to watch. Mother would give us stale bread to take to the pond so we could feed them. We also had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches wrapped in wax paper for our lunch. Mother would put milk in a mason jar and screw the lid down tight. We took turns sipping out of the same mason jar because viruses hadn't been invented yet in the 1950s. That and two apples in a sack made a good lunch. She always made enough for Jimmy as well because his mother expected him to come home if he was hungry. Whereas, my mother's thought processes were, "I don't wanna see you again until dinner."

We learned to take our shoes and socks off because there is no way you can just stay on the dry land. Besides, squishy mud between the toes feels good. Jimmy made a dip net out of a coat hanger and some cheese cloth and we were anxious to try it out.

We found an old aluminum pot that we filled up with clear water off the top of the pond. One scoop of the dip net through the pond and then we turned it inside out in the pot. Oh my gosh, the ugliest bugs in the world live in pond water! Jimmy looked in there, his eyes popped out and he was back on dry ground again in a flash.

"Ah, come on, Jimmy. They ain't gonna hurt us. Their mouths is too little to bite."

"Oh yeah? Say that to a mosquito or a horsefly Paul."

"Horsefly? Ha, ha, ha... horsefly!"

I'd never heard of a horsefly before and when I ran it through my imagination, it was worthy of some chuckles.

"Look, Jimmy, both my brothers have played in this pond for years and they never been bit or nothing."

"I dunno, you saw how ugly them things are, Paul."

"But that don't mean spit, Jimmy. Look how ugly your Aunt Glady's is and yet she's a real nice lady."

"I guess. But she ain't no bug."

I giggled. "Look at her eyes and tell me that... ha, ha, ha, ha!"

I eventually talked him back into the water but we didn't look at things smaller than minnows for the rest of the day.

It's funny the things people are scared of and things they ain't. Jimmy had goosebumps all day thinking about the ugly bugs in the water. But as soon as he scared a water snake out of the cat-tails he was on in like a cat on a rat. That boy loved snakes. Probably, I reasoned, because they scared the crap out of his little sister and his mother. Reason enough, I figured.

We took our lunch out of the paper sack and set it on a flat rock. Then the sack was a place to keep the snake until Jimmy got it home. But, if he didn't want to keep it then I wanted it.

"What you gonna do with it?" I asked.

"Shoe-box," he answered. "Of course," I'd reply.

He kept a shoe-box sitting on his dresser that had a dozen small holes punched in the top and a heavy rock weighing the lid down. That is where he would keep his crickets, frogs, snakes and various specimens of the reptile world. The frogs would usually eat the crickets and the snakes would eat the frogs so the balance of nature was maintained.

Me, I didn't really have an established system for keeping specimens. They would usually go into a pants pocket until I got them home and then I'd just forget about them. Thank goodness mother was around to remind me about them on laundry days! I just wished she'd been more gentle about it.

You ever notice how little kids don't walk anywhere? They do everything on the run. I think that's because with our short legs we were expected to keep up with our parents when they were walking. At least, that's what I conjecture. We just got used to running.

I'd slide out of bed in the morning right into my slippers. Then I'd run to the bathroom to pee. I'd usually have to go back for a slipper because I'd run right out of it. Once I'd peed I'd run back to my room and get dressed. With my clothes on I'd run to the kitchen, jump into a chair and be ready for breakfast. My mother got tired of telling me to slow down and walk. She just gave up.

Breakfast was usually a bowl of Wheaties, the breakfast of champions. Mother would pour them out of the box because I tended to get anywhere from a few to a bunch on the table and the floor. She'd also have to pour the milk because I was dangerous with a bottle or glass of milk in my hand. I was going through a growth spurt and my reflexes were still attuned to a smaller body. I'd grab for a glass of milk only to bump it over. So Mother did the pouring and anytime I had something to drink it would be in a six ounce juice glass to minimize spillage.

Dick would call me mister klutzy klutz. I would giggle because I didn't know what klutz meant. I responded by calling him Captain Wiener Man. Dad laughed from the living-room but mother looked at me cross eyed. It wasn't quite a mouth washing situation but pretty darn close.

When I'd finished eating I'd run for the door, open it, step through and just as I'd hear mother say, "don't slam the door..." SLAM, and I'd be outside and running for Jimmy's house.

When I got there he was in his back yard. He and his little sister were holding a funeral. It seems his mother beat his snake to death with a stick. Women, huh? Ruined the sack too!

We spent the day playing cars in the big sand-pile. We found a long, flat board that we propped up at the top of the pile to roll our cars down in a race. I got frustrated because Jimmy kept beating me race after race. We'd done this before and I would usually win more than half of the races. I didn't know what happened to change things.

I was feeling kinda bummed out and I guess Jimmy was able to tell. He put his hand on my shoulder and grinned.

"I got a secret, Paul."

I just looked at him quizzically.

"What?" I ask.

He digs in the cardboard box he uses to carry his cars and pulls out a miniature oil can.

"My Daddy gave me this. It's the oil can for my Mama's sewing machine. I told Daddy my dumb cars would never win a race over your cars. He put a drop on each wheel and zoom, zoom, zoom!"

Now my own father had an oil can like that. Unbeknownst to me, it was the same can Dick used to stop my Flash Gordon ray gun from sparking.

Jimmy picked up my losing car from the bottom of the ramp and touched a drop to each wheel. We set the cars up, once again, for a race. I started winning again a good two out of three races.

Now, Jimmy didn't have to show me his secret weapon for winning the race. But he saw how the constant losses were bothering me and felt bad for me. Looking back on this today, I realize that Jimmy was the very epitome of a true friend. And I could only hope to emulate him in my future dealings with others.

Next time, I'm going to my Grandmother's farm. I'm gonna ride a real, live, honest to goodness horse! Well, I'll sit on it at least. Don't forget to write me if you haven't done so yet. My address is easy to find.

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