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March 24, 2018

Growing up in Louisa – River City!

Weekly Feature ...by Mike Coburn

Susie and I had sat down for a quiet night’s movie. Usually, the faire is more about love or bonding in spite of conflicts, ala ‘Hallmark.’ That’s fine because we know in the end that we’ll feel good. While they are predictable, they give us the ‘end of the day,’ comfort that all is well with the world.

But this night was to start off differently.

You see, I had browsed and found a movie I hadn’t seen in years that dealt with man’s tenacity toward dishonesty.

It would be a long movie before my faith was finally restored in splendor and celebration in the final scene. The movie was ‘The Music Man,’ a traveling salesman selling dreams he could never really hope to deliver. He would con the people by playing to their hopes and aspirations for their children, the pride of the Iowa town, River City.

While looking for a ‘mark’ the fraudulent salesman discovered that the town was a recent recipient of a pool table being installed in the local pool hall. That spelled trouble for the town’s youth, right there in River City! I swallowed as my mind went back to the ‘River City’ of my youth. We had pool halls, too!

I think that the main pool room was Buttermilk’s, across from Rip’s and the Hamburger Inn. It was this one that attracted the older men, pool sharks, and traveling professional players. Except for those hanging lights centered over each of several pool tables, the room was basically dark. The walls were lined with racks of cues. Stools were set around and sometimes crowds would gather to watch the outcome of a game.

Eight ball was maybe the most common game, but setting up a nine ball rack told us where the money was involved. It was enough for me to remember the rules for ‘rotation,’ let along these other games. It didn’t matter. Younger kids were discouraged from hanging out there. There were some older boys that may or may not have cut a class from high school and frequented the joint. I do remember they would go on alert whenever the truant officer, Bill Elkins, was in the area. The back door was used by a few to escape certain capture and the punishment that was sure to follow. Buttermilk’s was run by Mr. Priode. I can’t say I knew him, but certainly I did see him a few times when I ventured into the establishment.

The funny thing about that was that Bill Elkins also purchased Homer Wright’s pool room over on Madison, next to Ryan’s near Pop’s Dairy Queen. I knew Homer as a carpenter, but didn’t find out for years later his connection to the pool room. Today, the conflict of interest for Bill Elkins seems obvious. Running a pool room and also being responsible for seeing that kids remain in school could be an issue. I think to him it was more about the investment than actually running the store. Still, I can see it dividing loyalties. This one was called, “Sport Spot Restaurant and Pool Room.” The pool room was in the back, so the business seemed to be about eating lunch, but the entertainment was calling at the sound of striking ivory balls. Ferris Bush ran the pool room during the day. A cousin of mine, who had saved up and bought a fancy cue that unscrewed and carried in a black case, was a frequent customer. There were rumors he gambled (o, my) and even sold some spirits until Jack Jordan, the Sheriff, suggested he stop. I think he did. Guys who carried their own cues were a danger to the kids who were just starting to play for money. You could bet the innocent would lose their allowance within minutes.

In fairness, the front room, a small restaurant, did offer up some good food. I’m told the meatloaf was absolutely wonderful. I may have eaten a burger or two, but I really remember more about the pool room. The back door seemed as busy as the front since parking was in the rear.

Louisa had some really good players back in the day. Unk Cain was an old guy, but was known for his amazing skill at the game. There were a few men who were known nationally. One was named ‘Fats,’ but I’ve lost the memory to say more about him. I know I was told story after story of fantastic shots made by these men. It wasn’t luck, either, for they almost always called their shots before taking a position behind the cue ball. Whether six rails, or a complex combination, the balls would drop just where it was predicted.

I know that I learned early on that a good pool player not only made the shot but had to consider whether English was required to make the ball roll or stop rolling where it should. You had to consider the next shot, too, so having the cue ball strike and knock in the target was only part of the mission. The next shot was critical to keep ‘your turn,’ active and allow you to ‘run the table.’ I’ve seen games played and won when the other player never even had a turn, or if having one and missed, never got to shoot again.

pool room pool room  I remember the little blue squares of chalk that you’d use for the tip of your cue. Without that the cue would slip and you’d stand a good chance that the tip would break. I remember the ‘pill bottles’ that were used to play nine ball, and then there were ‘bridges’ that helped one to support the cue during difficult shots/angles. The wooden triangular racks where used to ‘rack up’ the balls for a new game. For nine ball you still used the same rack, but had to position the fewer balls with your hands.

I never really shot a lot of pool until I had graduated and left for the Air Force. Everywhere I was stationed there was a pool table set up in the ‘day rooms,’ of each squadron. I spent many nights shooting pool and practicing shots. I never got involved in playing for money, but I suspect others did. I just wanted to learn the skillset to satisfy myself that I could learn the game. I was reasonably good, but far from the level of others I’d watch play.

No doubt, there was ‘trouble’ in River City, but somehow we survived. Maybe it was the marching band, or sports, or even academia that saved us? Who knows, but life is full of the good and bad. What we see as bad isn’t usually the worst and what we see as good, sometimes isn’t. Such is the nature of life.

Now I’m looking at some larger homes as a possibility to meet family needs. Maybe there will be a space for a pool table, who knows? There’s a risk though that we’d have trouble right here in the River City where I live, but we could always break out seventy-six trombones and parade about. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

         

Comments  

0 #2 Citizen 2018-03-27 20:08
The sheriff was Jake Jordan. His wife was a teacher at the high school school. Good story.
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+1 #1 Elaine Mabry 2018-03-26 21:19
The man that they called Fats was my kids great grandfather. His name was Andrew Browning
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