Title: Roller Rink Starlight: A Memoir
Author: William Hart
Genre: Coming of Age Memoir; Romance Memoir; Sports Memoir
William Hart’s true coming of age memoir begins when at fourteen he joins an amateur roller racing team comprised of both sexes and loaded with RSROA national champions. A varsity sprinter in track, he soon excels at speed skating.
Insiders know roller rinks are conspiracies to turn singles into couples.
The main storyline follows Hart’s early education in romance—piquant, humorous, harrowing, and laced with major life lessons. The setting: Wichita, Kansas, early 1960s, when the sexual repression of the 50s still prevails, except in rare zones of marked liberation. Adults have their watering holes, teens the rink, where they can experiment with their budding sexualities. Immersed in powerful mood music they glide in pairs through darkness under stars and make out in the bleachers. Falling in love is ridiculously easy, as we see in the adventures of teammates, parents, and certainly the author. Hart fell hard for a gifted racer, his kindred spirit, costar of many of his most indelible memories.
This sports memoir about love and roller skating chronicles poignantly the ecstasies and perils of 60s high school romance against a backdrop of flat-out athletic competition.
My mother and I were always close and we must have been especially close in the years before my brother came along. John’s birth three years after mine was difficult for me and the earliest photographs of us together attest to this. I look like I’m waking up after a really bad drunk. The trauma of having to share my mother apparently hit me hard. John in the same photos beams toothlessly like the carefree infant he was, not a thought in his cranium beyond the nipple. But of course he’d never experienced the undivided measure of our mother’s love. He never knew what I lost.
During my teen years my tight bond with my mother virtually guaranteed friction between us as I broke away from both parents to become my own man, so to speak. I would often feel mothered to death and it rankled like ice water down my back. I responded by driving Mom off with sarcasms and mockery, which I could see hurt her. Hurting her made me feel guilty but not guilty enough to tone down my hyper prickly insistence on being left alone. Sometimes my mother was right to intervene in my affairs and sometimes she was wrong but even when she was wrong her involvement stemmed from her concern for my wellbeing. Often it was simply that she didn’t want her headstrong older son to land up in the emergency room again with something else to stitch, X-ray, or pump.
On the day I have in mind Mom had driven John and me to a place we often fished in woods twenty miles east of Wichita. I’d gone off by myself and was standing on the road that crossed Four Mile Creek with my line in the water. The dam beneath the road held back a big pool where bass and crappie liked to congregate. I could hear water trickling through the overflow pipes beneath me as I watched my bobber vibrating and moving away at a crawl. The activity told me my minnow was alive and kicking against its fate, a good thing by the cruel logic of fishing because the desperation of the little baitfish improved its function as a lure.
The sound of someone descending the road from the picnic area caught my attention. It was Mom negotiating the incline in her medium-heeled orthopedic shoes that she wished were more stylish. She was trying not to make noise because she knew it could scare the fish. She walked across the concrete bridge to where I was standing. “Having any luck?” she asked.
I shook my head no. My bobber had become still and when I waited and it remained still I decided that either the minnow had died or a crawdad had snatched it. I reeled in my line and lifted the bait out of the water, then used my rod to swing it up to me. The minnow was limp in my hand and already losing color. I took it off the hook and tossed it behind me on the bridge for a bird to find. Stepping to the edge of the bridge, I squatted and began lifting the bait bucket out of the water by its nylon cord.
“Bill, be careful,” my mother said.
“I am being careful.”
“You’re so close to the edge.”
Seeing no reason to be afraid of a five-foot fall into water, I said, “If only Captain Ahab’s mother had watched over him.”
Mom knew not to say more. She waited behind me while I opened the bait bucket, scooped up a handful of minnows and released them until I held just one, the one that felt like it had the most fight. I pushed the hook in behind its dorsal fin as it beat its tail against my fingers. Then I picked up my rod and raised it overhead. Swinging the bobber and bait behind me I began to cast.
“Bill, don’t…!” Mom cried softly. I knew from her tone that something was very wrong. Turning, I saw my hook caught high in her cheek, just below her eye. The wound was bleeding and the minnow, still on the hook, was struggling in the blood. An electric jolt of fear and guilt raced through me as I saw what I’d done to the person I cared about most. How could I have been so careless?! I released the drag on the reel and put the rod down and went to her. Stifling panic, as I’d seen her do in similar situations, I examined her cheek to see if the barb had buried. To my great relief, it hadn’t. I eased the hook out of the wound then used my folded T-shirt and pressure to stop the bleeding.
My angry negligence invited punishment under the laws of karma and I’ve been punished all my life. That hook so close to my mother’s eye is an image that hasn’t softened or diminished with the years. When I’m really down, or upset, or feeling guilty, the whole scene can return in painful detail as I relive what I did.
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What’s the first binge-worthy book you read and why was it a must-read?
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The protagonist was exactly my age and his thinking and behavior fascinated me.
What makes your featured book a binge-worthy read?
The very well-developed characters and their relationships, in particular my romantic relationships with two cute girls my age on our roller racing team.
One lucky reader will win a $75 Amazon (US) gift card.
Open internationally. You must have a valid Amazon US account to win.
Runs August 1 – 31
Drawing will be held on September 1.
William Hart is a novelist and poet living in Los Angeles. After earning a doctorate in English from the University of Southern California, he taught college writing courses in LA and wrote. Now he writes--fiction mostly--while helping produce the documentaries of filmmaker Jayasri Majumdar, his wife. Hart's work has appeared in several hundred literary journals, commercial magazines, newspapers, and anthologies, and fourteen books.
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