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The skate key

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By The Staff

A skate key. It was a passport to sidewalk rollerskating for children of the 50s and 60s. I had great times rolling up and down my sidewalk with a song in my head. These skates, however, were not easy to manage. As a matter of fact, they were exasperating.

Simply how they attached to our shoes was a recipe for trouble. Here's how they worked: the skater placed his or her shoe on the metal platform, tightened a leather strap around the ankle, and used the skate key to tighten clamps that grasped the soles of the shoes at the toe. The plate of the skate slid to fit the shoe so a child could wear them for years. The skate key also incorporated a wrench that was used to adjust the skate to the user's size and make other adjustments. If a kid lost his skate key, he was "up the creek."

These skates would not stay put. Just when I had a rhythm to my stride, one shoe would pop out of the skate. My ankles turned over and so did I (No kid wore a helmet; that would have been sissy). I would sit on the sidewalk and, with my key, adjust for the 10th time (or more).

Because a couple of my friends lived in town, they had more places to skate than I did such as the sidewalk around the entire square. I envied their territory since mine was confined to a "Y" shaped sidewalk from my front door to the back. One thing I had, however, that they didn't was a basement. Damp and dark at the time, I still skated over the cracks and crevices that I had memorized within a week.

On that sidewalk and in the basement in my metal skates was where I developed my love for rollerskating. By the time I had gained confidence on these wheels, Gene's Skating Rink (in Edmonton) opened and I had a place to spend many afternoons and nights and test my expert skating abilities.

By now, we had cast aside our sidewalk skates for indoor shoe skates, which we rented. We didn't care that half the town had slipped their feet into those skates by the time we did; we were glad to have them. As skating became more and more popular, some kids bought their own skates.

We usually skated once during the week and again on Sunday afternoons. I thought I was decent until I saw those who could skate circles around me. They could cross over on the curves without tripping over their own feet, glide left and right as if they were waltzing, and the really good ones could skate backwards. While they were moving at a fast clip around the middle of the rink, I was never far from the rail so I could catch it quickly if I started to go down. I dangled on that rail many times when my feet left me.

Skating was also very romantic. Many couples fell in love at roller rinks. The "couples only" was a favorite of all teens, especially girls hoping guys would roll over and take their hand.

My friends and I, by then around 13, stood like wallflowers for a couple of years as the older boys and girls skated to "Deep Purple." No guy our age would be seen holding a girl's hand and skating with her. We wanted the older guys to ask us anyway.

Although romantic, skating could be dangerous for the novice skater if he chose to skate on the nights the good skaters showed up, which was often. No one wanted to get in the way of "Crack the Whip." The skater on the end of the whip could be slung against the concrete wall, out an open door, or through a window. More often than not, he was thrown into the rail. "Crack the Whip" was not for the beginner.

As I was pilfering around in the basement a few days ago, I spotted my husband's black leather shoe skates on the top shelf in a back room. I remember him and his buddies coming to the rink to skate, but he was just a cute boy and I was interested in older guys at the time.

Funny how life takes a turn or two. Before we graduated, we were skating to "Deep Purple" in a couple's only dance.

The last time I skated was probably 40 years ago. Although I think I remember how and might be able to make it around the rink a couple of times, I will never know. Never, never know.

I hung up my skates and someday my mother may find that old skate key buried in a box of memories.    

- Carol Perkins is a retired teacher from Metcalfe County High School and a columnist for several newspapers in Kentucky.