The Summer Project: The roller skates (1980)

Our grade school, St. Eugene's, built a massive gymnasium/parish center that opened in late 1979, when I was in fourth grade. Previous to the debut, the school had been using the old church as a converted gym (the new church had been built sometime in the early 1970s, before we moved into the parish in 1977). Many of Chicago's Catholic schools don't have full-sized gyms with actual gym floors, so this was a quite a project, spearheaded by Father Shaunessy, who became a good family friend and who the parish center is now named after.

When the gym floor was installed, it was just going to be for basketball and gym classes -- it would double as a roller rink. This would make St. Eugene rather unique and a great place for kids who roller skated. However, by 1980, I had never laced up skates.

My parents had bought roller skates for my sister Julie, and she became a good skater almost right away. I wasn't against the idea of roller skating, but I was such an uncoordinated 9-year-old. Remember, I didn't learn how to ride a bike until the summer before. But, Mom and Dad were going to let me give it a try -- and I wanted to try, as a girl I liked, my first real crush, went to skating every weekend (for the first few years, St. Eugene held open skate Friday night, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday afternoon). I got a pair of blue skates with red and white trim, no stopper, from Sears. I think these are the skates below (not my picture, but one I found online):

My first days on the skates were not easy. Basically, I went up and down the gangway, being able to stop my self on the car once I reached the street, and also being able to step into the lawn if needed. After a couple weeks, I finally went to a skating session at the parish center for the first time.

I skated a lot that summer. The older kids who ran the music either played WLS over the speakers or "Glass Houses" by Billy Joel -- but only side 1, and those are the only five songs I know on that album I know by heart (even though I've owned it in some form for 30-something years). Julie eventually told the girl I had a crush on that I liked her during an afternoon skating session; I remember the smile/laugh on her face when she turned around to look for me after Julie spilled the secret (thanks, Julie, for the embarrassment!)

I never became that good a skater -- I never was very fast could never skate backwards, and had a few wipeouts. But for a couple hours on the weekends, this was a fun outlet for us grade-schoolers when there weren't that many options available (particuarly during the winter). For the next 2-3 years, I skated a lot with my friends. It was the thing to do on Friday nights. I moved up to a gym shoe pair of skates with a stopper, then an adult black pair and yellow wheels. Then, sometime around late seventh grade, the older kids simply stopped going to skating as much.

Almost thirty years passed before I laced up skates again, on a field trip with the boys' school. It was a little harrowing, but I survived and actually enjoyed it. I've gone maybe three times now, and I think I was getting better, but it still felt as if I was back on the gangway, trying not to fall. The last time, another parent who was comfortable on skates told a mom who was shaky to look to me for help, and I quickly declared I'm not the one to lean on if you are falling. Enjoyable or not, skating in my 40s is all about survival ...

Still, I fondly remember that first year of roller skating with my blue skates with no stoppers. With so many fears I was dealing with (water, getting hit with a baseball, and, for the first time, girls ...), it was great to conquer one.

That said, I have never tried ice skating, and don't plan to. Call me crazy, but 44 is too old to take up a sport in which I know I'll be falling a lot. And there's no lawn or parked car to help.


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