Shared Stories: My First Set of Wheels

Being the good grandmother, Yolanda Adele digs out her decades-old, special childhood gift so she can help her young grandson learn to roller skate at the local rink.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Yolanda Adele
On my 11th Christmas, my godfather, Uncle Brown, gave me my first pair of official roller-rink skates nestled in a bright blue and silver metal suitcase. On the side panels of the case was a graphic design of a smiling boy and girl holding hands, “couple skating.” In the mind of this pre-teen girl that design spelled out many potential possibilities. 

The white, smooth leather boot skates have a round rubber tip at the toe for stopping on the rink floor. The boots are high tops with silver laces. 

At eleven years old, I imagined the strobe lights from the roller rink ceiling bouncing off the shimmering, silver-color laces, spotlighting my every gliding move. 

I stood several inches taller on wheels, and I felt regal when I laced up my new boot skates. These skates were nothing like my first set of wheels, street skates that had to be fastened to my shoes and adjusted to size with a special skate-key that I wore around my neck like an Olympic Medal. 

Braking was left to the skater’s imagination.  In my case, that meant maneuvering myself to a nearby tree, bush, or a playmate’s extended hand to stop my momentum.

The rink skate boots are my favorite childhood gift. It’s hard to believe that I was married just six years after receiving those skates.

When my grandson, Moises (Mosey) was about six years old, my daughter Tina called me at home from the Skate Depot, a roller-skating rink in Norwalk. She said that Moises was there with her along with his first grade class. She added that he was having trouble balancing himself out on the rink floor. 

She could not help him because she had the baby, my granddaughter Hannah, with her. She asked if I could come there to assist Mosey. I quickly remembered exactly where my skates were. I told Tina I’d be there soon. 

When I arrived at the rink, it was apparent that my skates were at best, archaic.  I saw the skaters blur by with their state-of-the-art, inline roller stakes. 

“Whoa!” I knew I was in trouble then. Maybe I could skate and hold Mosey up on the rink floor for a time but - who would hold me up? Mosey spotted me and ran up to me in his stocking feet. He was excited.

“Nana, Mommy said that if you don’t skate with me we have to go home!”

“Honey, first I have to ask the skate attendant if my kind of skates are permitted on the rink floor. If he says my skates are O.K., I will skate with you.” He took my hand and hurriedly led me to the counter.

I took a skate out of the case and showed it to the attendant who proceeded to hold up my skate as he stared at it, like an archaeologist examining a find. 

With his index finger, he gave the wooden wheel a spin and said, “Yeah, lady, I guess so, but when was the last time you skated in these things?” 

I told him that I thought Dwight Eisenhower was president at the time. Actually, I had skated in them when Mosey was still an infant.  A roller rink had a Mommy and Baby Day when the rink was open only to The Moms’ Club, to which my daughter Tina belonged. 

At that time, babies in their strollers were allowed on the rink floor with their mommies and grandmas who supported themselves by the handle on the strollers, simultaneously skating and pushing the strollers to slow tempo music.                                

“Nana, does it fit?” my darling grandson asked while jumping up and down.  Why hadn’t I thought to try on my skates before I got here! 

I loosened the now lack-luster laces and leather shoe tongue before trying to slip in my foot. The experience was reminiscent of the ugly step-sister forcing her foot in the ill-fitting glass slipper like the Cinderella story.  My leather boot was no longer pliable, the lining was breaking down. 

The fit was stiff and uncomfortable. But what could I say, except...? “Of course they fit!”  Tina whispered in a concerned tone. “Mom, are you sure?”

I answered with bravado, “Absolutely!”  Mosey and I soon booted up, he in his new in-line skates and I in my relic skates. We headed for the rink floor. 

I had one hand on him and the other on the railing. Suddenly my ankles wobbled.  It took Mosey and I long time to go around the rink. I skated within range of the railing. A few times I let go and ended up skating in an undesirable direction like a loose cannon. I fell once and hurt my - pride.

Finally, the music stopped. An announcement was made to clear the rink floor. My reprieve did not last long. The next announcement was that the rink would be opened for skating in the opposite direction. Try as I did, I could not skate slanting in a different direction without at least a stroller handle for holding on. 

To my relief Mosey started skating less wobbly now, so I let go of his hand setting him free on his own first set of wheels.

I can’t help wondering what kind of skates Mosey’s children will have when in line-skates become archaic. And will Mosey reminisce about his first set of wheels?