At Week’s End: Curling (up) in Leo’s billiard parlor

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February 16, 2018 - 12:00 AM

The Olympics, winter and summer, are wife Beverly’s favorite sports events — other than the activities of our grandchildren.
Since day one of the winter festival in South Korea, she has been glued to the TV.
I enjoy, also, but in spurts.
The event I like as well as any is curling.
A couple of reasons: The game involves a great deal of strategy, and, though slow moving, it often reminds me of my long hours sequestered in Leo Eckart’s billiard parlor in 1950s Humboldt.
Curling is more than just putting the stone in a scoring position. It also involves guiding it to dislodge your opponent’s so as to reduce his scoring opportunities and improve your own.
Much the same may be said for pool — I preferred snooker, and occasionally played three-rail billiards — in that “position,” where the cue ball comes to rest after a shot, is of extreme importance.
I got my first taste of pool tagging along with Dad. Leo had a rule that teenagers, until age 18, had to be accompanied by a parent. By slipping in with Dad I had a head start on account of the lessons I gleaned from him and several others, including Warren McGill, who was a whiz at billiards. Shorty Gurwell — barely 5-foot tall — taught me how to hit the cue ball to change its direction of travel, even “crawl” down a rail.
Eventually, Leo waived my age requirement — Dad probably had a role — and let me practice for free, as long as no one else was in the parlor. That usually occurred on early summer days.
Leo racked 15 red balls on his snooker tables, rather than nine usually found in other pool halls. That permitted runs — making so many balls in succession — that now and then topped 100 points. I had several in the 120-point range.
Points were scored by making a red ball (one point), then a numbered ball scored by its face value. Once the red balls were scattered, I often was able to concentrate on the end of the table where the six and seven balls were.
Leo gave $1 for the three high runs each week, and before leaving for college in late summer 1961, I went several months of collecting $1 each week. I also won a very nice jointed cue — still have it — by winning a snooker tournament one year.
I don’t recall many other kids my age playing pool as much as I did, and I often was paired against adults, with the competition enhancing my skill.
From an Iola perspective, my granddad, Roy Johnson, was a good billiard player, who also gave me tips on how to use the rails and add “English” to the cue ball.

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