Those Long - Long Lunch Breaks

Much as I hate winter now I used to look forward to it when I was going to BCI because it meant the beginning of the curling season and once introduced to the game I loved it. Now living so far out of town and being bussed in wouldn't seem like a combination that could get me much time on the rink but that wasn't the case.

The old curling rink in Battleford was just across the street from the school and right beside the hockey arena. It was an old natural ice rink and when the temperature wasn't just right the walls and ceiling would build up something terrible with hoar frost, when the temperature went up it would literally rain inside. But when conditions were right the ice would get so keen you could almost blow a rock down the sheet.

In those days we got good long lunch hours, it was at least an hour and it might have even been 90 minutes. Some of us kids from the school would be waiting just like we were at a starting line for Mrs Sternig to ring that old hand held cow bell at noon and once we heard it we were off like a shot for the rink. Lunches would be eaten on the run and in about five minutes we were on the ice. The icekeeper was an older man I think his name might have been Ed ( I should be ashamed not to remember his name because he was so good to us). The deal went like this, we could curl over the noon hour so long as we cleaned the ice when were done. We used to almost have it down to the second how close to school getting back in we could cut it before we had to stack the rocks at the end of the sheet and haul that big sheepskin drag up and down the ice.

In the spring and fall when it was to warm for the ice to go in, and to cold to be outside we would head down to "Romo's Pool Shack" on Main Street. I don't know why he got the name Romo, I suspect it was really Romeo but how could you have a Romeo running a pool hall. Romo was one of those characters that could have been in a John Steinbeck novel, he would have fit right into Cannery Row, as the guy with the French accent. If I ever made a movie about life in a small prairie town a place like Romo's would be featured to give it atmosphere. I can't exactly remember the rules but I am pretty sure you couldn't go in until you were 16 and I don't know about girls, because I never saw any there. Except Mrs Romo, but she was so tough she hardly qualified, the only person in town who scared me more than Romo himself was her.

It couldn't have cost much to play pool back then, maybe 15 cents I think, not like today where the clock starts the minute you walk into the place. Its a good thing it was by the game, because we were so bad when we started that it took the whole lunch break to get through a game.

There was a kind of hierarchy in the place that dictated what table you were on and even what cue you used. If you tried to move up to soon you got put in your place pretty quick. I remember there was "the big table" in the middle of the room. Not that it was different in size but it was reserved for the "big boys". When it was cold out Romo ruled his empire from a tall stool with a back on it that he would place beside one of those high cast iron stoves that he would feed coal into by the scoop full. It would be so cold near the back walls you had to wear a coat but in the center of he room you could go with a tee shirt.

Across the street was Tan's store and we could see a steady parade of kids heading in and out over lunch. You could go in with (2 cents I think it was) and buy a cigarette, there wasn't any age limit back then I guess, and an awful lot of kids smoked.

Sometimes we would pursue that most important of teenage activities, just hang around, I wonder if we were as threatening to older people then as some of the kids are today. We wandered around in groups and I guess we all belonged to a gang of some sort only we didn't call it that, it was just a bunch of us killing time waiting for the window on the top floor to open and Mrs Sternig to call her charges home with that darn bell.

I always wondered why they didn't get a proper buzzer or something, school boards probably had money issues even then.