A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


To this day I can’t tell you why that Cub Scout roller skating party was so important to me.   For some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with going to the Rustic Rink with my fellow Cubs and lacing on a pair of heavy black roller skates.

But there was a problem.  It was a Cubs-and-Parents affair, which meant that I had to invite Mom and Dad.  Which was okay, except for one thing.  I had long since figured out that my parents were a little different than most of my friends’ folks.  For one thing, they were quite a bit older – Dad was fifty-three at the time, Mom was forty-seven – and physically less attractive than other parents in the neighborhood.  My friends would go skiing and camping with their parents.  Mine let me watch The Mickey Mouse Club nearly every day.

Which is why it surprised me a little when Mom responded so positively to the skating party when I finally found the courage to bring it up.

“But I’ve never been roller skating before,” Dad protested.

“Then it’s time you learned,” Mom replied.  “Besides, you used to ice skate.”

“Wanda, that was forty years ago.”

“Oh, you know how it is with those kinds of things,” Mom assured him.  “Once you learn them you never forget.”  She placed her hands lovingly on my shoulders.  “If it means so much to him, Bud, don’t you think we should at least give it a try?”

Dad looked at me with mock frustration.  “All right,” he said with a shrug and a chuckle.  Then he pointed directly at me.  “But you better plan on following right behind me so I can land on you when I fall.”

The way it worked out, that job fell to Mom.  Since she had actually roller skated a couple of times when she was a little girl, she was designated as the Couple’s Skating Expert.   It was her task to support Dad as he made his herky-jerky, clackety-clacking way around the rink, and to go down with him whenever he fell, which was about every twenty yards or so.  The two of them would sit on the floor a few seconds after each fall, giggling like teenagers, and then they would struggle to their feet and begin again.

Clackety-clack.  Thud.  Ha-ha-ha.

Only I wasn’t laughing.  Most of the other parents skated pretty well – the Thomas twins’ dad could skate backwards, for Pete’s sake.  But there was my roly-poly Mom trying to support my nearly white-haired father, who didn’t seem to have any comprehension of the concept of gliding on skates.   They went down – again and again – in an embarrassing gale of laughter, making enough noise that you could barely hear the Beach Boys tunes blaring from the loud speakers.

I don’t think I even told my parents “thank you” as we drove home from the party that night.  I vaguely remember hearing my Mom joke that her back was a little sore, but mostly I was up to my earlobes in self-pity.

My humiliation turned to concern when Mom awakened in the middle of the night, her back in agony.  Dad gave her aspirin.  He rubbed her back until it was light outside.  As he prepared to take her to the hospital, I heard him sadly tell my sister that it was his fault for being so darn clumsy.

But I knew whose fault it really was.  And when I finally saw her in the hospital, I was almost overwhelmed with guilt.  She had slipped a disc and was in traction, which to me at the time looked like something straight out of a torture chamber.  Her head was held in place by an ugly assortment of cables and harnesses that kept her looking straight ahead.  And a stack of weights was attached to her feet, turning her into the rope in a painful game of tug-of-war.

And I had put her there.  For all I knew, I could have killed her.  For the first time I understood how selfless her concern for me had been.  And how selfish I had been.

“Mom…” I could barely speak.

“Joey?  Is that you, son?  I’m sorry, I can’t see you.”  Again she was apologizing for something that wasn’t her fault.  I figured it was my turn to ask forgiveness.

“Mom… last night… the roller skating…” I couldn’t even form the words.

“Oh yes – the roller skating,” she said.  The she smiled as best she could in that harness.  “We did have a wonderful time, didn’t we?”

In time, Mom recovered from the injuries she suffered at the Rustic Rink.  But her back was never the same.

And neither, I hope, was I.

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--- © Joseph Walker 


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through