Romance and Roller Skates
Published in the Ashland Daily Press
I’d like to think my parents’ courtship was filled with excitement, romance and sweet nothings. But Mother was more practical in her thinking, and she described their relationship as one that was founded on mutual values and respect. Mom always told me I was more like my father. He was a bit of a romantic. So based on my ways and how I deal with life, I would guess Dad was head over heels the first time he laid eyes on Mom.
When my parents met, Dad was a hard-working entrepreneur that dabbled in a number of markets. He was raised on a farm so he understood what hard work meant, and he thought nothing of laboring from sun up to sun down. The business he became best known for in our rural community was called, The Chequamegon Roller Rink, located at 311 W. 3rd St., in Ashland, WI. He branched out his business by adding on an additional eleven locations, within a 60 mile radius, where he’d rent a community building with hardwood floors for the night. For those off-site locations, he’d haul the equipment he owned in the bed of his pickup truck.
Dad had rental skates, a record player and records, speakers, and a PA system. At the rink, he sold skates, parts for skates, and refreshments like soda, candy and chips. He skated six nights a week.
Dad was quite a skater and his graceful moves made dancing on skates look easy. A big part that made his business fun was how he set up skating games that encouraged potential couples to meet. One of his popular skates was called, Flashlight Tag. Those who wanted to participate stood in the center of the rink. One couple would begin skating in circles around them. When Dad flashed the light on the couple skating, they’d split up and choose a different partner. The newest two couples would begin skating together and split up when the light flashed on them. The game continued until everyone was on the floor skating.
Another popular game was called the Threesome Skate. Sets of three skaters would link arms and move around the rink. When Dad blew the whistle, the person in the middle would go forward.
Although many marriages resulted from people meeting at the rink, the story I loved best was the one about my parents.
Dad first met Mom in 1946 at his Ashland rink where she hoped to learn how to skate. She was 18-years-old at the time and attending County Normal to obtain her teaching certification.
Mom had fun the nights she went skating, but she remembered a time when some of the city-slickers were a bit rude. When it was mentioned that her family was from Namakagon Lake, it wasn’t unusual for someone to ask, “Do people wear shoes there?”
Dad was a playful and friendly instructor, but it must have been obvious to him that Mom’s studies came first. When Mom graduated, she moved to Barren, WI for a teaching job. Two years later, she went back to college and earned her Bachelor’s degree. She then obtained a 5th-grade teaching job at Lester Park, in Duluth, MN.
When Mom turned 25, her brothers, friends and cousins all seemed to be in serious relationships, or already married. She had done her fair share of dating, but she met no one who succeeded in wooing her. The guys she met were either self-centered, egotistical, or had more issues than a five-year-old, seemingly looking for a replacement mother. Mom figured that if those were the kinds of men available, she would gladly accept the idea she would never marry. That was, until she met my dad once again at the roller rink, seven years later.
It was the spring of 1953. With the school year done, Mom moved back home to Namakagon Lake. Her parents took her to Glidden to go skating.
It was no surprise that this cool confident woman would get my dad’s attention. Unfortunately, he almost blew any chance of scoring a date with her when he asked her out for the first time. What he thought of as a smooth opening line, Mom thought was another one of those insulting questions that she grew up with and was ready to jab it back at him.
“Do you have a telephone?”
“Of course we do!” Mom replied rolling her eyes.
“What is your number?” He asked.
“239!” She answered with sarcasm.
“Would you like to go to a dance with me?”
“Sure,” she retorted, a bit confused.
My parents started dating from that point forward. It wasn’t the hot and heavy kind of love affair, it was more of a let’s take this slow and get to know each other first kind of relationship.
It was mid-August when Dad had to depart out west to work. He had a custom hay baling business. He was responsible to bale the flax straw that would be purchased by the cigarette companies. Mom started teaching the 5th and 6th grades at Washburn School that was located by the University of MN-Duluth. They kept their spark alive writing letters.
On September 20th, 1953, Dad wrote, ‘How is teaching? Wish I was back in school, didn’t think the teachers where I went to school were like the ones now days. Kind of nice to look forward to going out with one.’
In the summer of 1954, Ashland was celebrating its Centennial, and my parents’ courtship resumed. Dad grew a mustache and goatee, Mom’s short dark hair was curled tight with pin curls. They went to dances and watched parades. Dad taught Mom how to dance on skates. She learned to waltz and dance the two-step. He also taught her how to skate backwards. Mom was dressed in her green and white print rayon dress, dad in his yellow button up shirt and his favorite brown trousers, when he leaned in for their first kiss.
Dad started talking about marriage. He hadn’t yet made an actual proposal. What he said was more like, “We can’t keep going like this or we are going to get ourselves in trouble.”
Dad decided he would stay through the winter and mom went back to Duluth.
On January 11th, 1955, my dad wrote to my mom, “I have your picture on my dresser and that reminds me, we should take some pictures this winter, of you in the snow, that is snow for a background . . .”
That winter, Mom received her notice from the superintendent’s office, asking her to come back and teach for the following school year. It stated that if she were to leave the district, she would have to give them notice by March 1st.
Dad was bringing Mom back to Duluth after another fun filled weekend, and Mom began to discuss the notice. She felt she needed to have an understanding of where their relationship was going. He had mentioned marriage several times, but never actually popped the question.
At the end of their discussion, my father asked, “Shall we get married? . . . Is that what you wanted me to say?”
To which Mom clarified, “All I need to know is should I stay in Duluth, or should I try and get a job in Ashland?”
My dad said, “Why don’t you try and get a job in Ashland.”
On May 10th 1955, Dad wrote, “Sure is nice to have a nice girl friend to write and tell all the plans too, and look forward to life with.”
My parents had been married three days short, of 58 years, when Dad passed in 2013.
Hearing the courtship story of where that golden anniversary marriage started, it made sense how they made it work. They depended on their kindness, trust, and openness to lay the groundwork for their relationship. And in the end, they had a marriage that had enough romance, excitement and sweet-nothings, to make it last forever.
Be sure to check out the music video, Romance & Roller Skates, found below in the photo gallery.