Anne Eagle Walker: Oral History (2011)

Interviewer: Anne, where were you born and where did you grow up?

Anne: I was born in St. Louis but only lived there a month, and we spent maybe a year and a half or so in Denver. And then, we were traveling around South Texas—until I was probably right after first grade. Then we went back to Colorado, and we were there until I was sixteen, and then we came to Austin. It was August 15, 1962. It was very hot. Been here ever since.


Interviewer: What can you tell us about the different roller rinks your parents owned? I was also thinking of the portable rink.

Anne: Well, that’s probably one of the more unique things about our family. My dad retired from the Army when I was a little less than 2 years old. I have no idea how he bought it, but we ended up in South Texas with a portable rink, with a tent, like a circus tent, a big tent. And the floor came in huge sections that fit together, like this, so, that it was a smooth skating surface. And, beneath that was a whole framework of other wood and bands of steel. I don’t know what all was underneath, but I have pictures of them, you know, putting it together and all. So, once they got it up, they put a railing around it, and this big tent went over it. And then we had a trailer (below) that had a window on one side, and we’d parked it up at the end of the floor. That’s what we sold the tickets and gave people their skates.

We traveled around and followed some of the carnivals around South Texas. And we lived in, let’s see, Three Rivers and Cotulla and Falfurrias. Those are the ones I know the names of. And the thing I remember most about that is the sound of the wheels. We were little, so at night when they were having the session, my parents would put us to sleep on the shelf, since the skates were rented out. I can remember sleeping with the sound of, you know, my face on the wood listening to the grr-grr, the wheels going around. And, there was actually organ music, which seemed ridiculous to me having an organ out there in a tent. But they did, because I remember the organ music, and I have a picture somewhere.

But at some point a twister came along. My father always called it a twister, I don’t know if it was a tornado, full blown, or just a twister. But it took the tent, and just took the tent and shredded it, and the poles were all over the floor. I have lots of pictures of us kids sitting lined on the poles lying on the floor. And so, after that they took the floor and put it in a warehouse in Alice, Texas. That’s where I went to first grade, in Alice. And so, we, you know, were there, doing it out of that, that warehouse.

And then, after first grade, 1950 or 1952, something like that, we moved to Boulder, and we were with the skating rink there for about six months. Then we moved to Lakewood, Colorado, and we were there until 1962. And we had one called the Lakewood Roller Bowl on Colfax, which was one of the main strips that goes all the way through Denver and out Lakewood and into the mountains. There was a movie theatre next door, which was fun, and a bowling alley across the street. So, it was kind of a little, you know, area of recreation, and a bar and grill that we skated over and ate at a lot. But, then we had the one at Mammoth Gardens downtown for a short period before we came to Texas. So, raised in the roller rink! [Laughs]


Interviewer: What can you tell us about Mammoth Gardens?

Anne: Mammoth Gardens in Denver, Colorado, was one of the roller rinks that we ran for a while, and it was a huge building that was originally built for wrestling matches. And they had these big things on the wall, plaster things of figurines of people wrestling, and it had lots and lots of seats. And the thing that was really weird was that after we got there, my brother and I went, kind of, exploring, and we found all these secret rooms and tunnels underneath the floors, and there was a tower. And, apparently during prohibition years they had the wrestling going up on top, and then underneath was gambling and liquor and things that we found out. So, it was pretty interesting building. We were just there about a year, year and a half.


Anne: When we first moved to Austin, my mom and I went to the Sears, which was downtown on Congress, and it was like stepping back in time, you know, 20 years at least because the kids were wearing bobby socks and loafers here. In Denver, we were already in middle school. As soon as you got out of sixth grade you wore hose and flats and a skirt. I mean, it was just very different. Austin seemed very backwards to me, but it was slow, and it was quiet, and there was no traffic, and everybody was just so friendly.

Interviewer: What schools did you attend in Austin?

Anne: I went to Lanier for my junior and senior year. It was brand new and had only been in existence one year, and it was where Burnet Middle School is now. So, it was Lanier Junior/Senior High School. At first, I thought I had had enough of school and was going to quit because I was sixteen. But, Susan Gay, the girl I met across the street, whose parents had owned the skating rink that we managed, and we bought their business. She convinced me that it was a lot of fun and that it was really easy, because it was a mixture of little kids and high school kids. So, because of her I went back to school and graduated from Lanier in 1964.

Interviewer: How were Austin schools different from Colorado schools that you had attended?

Anne: I went to Jefferson County schools in Lakewood, which is west of Denver. They were some of the best in the nation, and school was really hard. You majored and minored in something, and I was going to major in psychology, but I made C’s and was doing good making C’s. I went there my sophomore year. When I came here it was so different. I said I wanted to major in psychology, and the lady said, “Honey, we don’t major in things. That’s college.” Classes were easy. I hardly studied and made A’s and B’s. Except typing, because I was too clumsy and made C’s.

And, I was on the drill team. I had never been able to participate in any school things until I came here, and so, I was one of the Valkyries. And, of course, they didn’t wear cute little skirts like they do now. They wore a long uniform with a jacket, and you know, but it was still fun.


Interviewer: And what can you tell us about the Gay family, who owned the roller rink before your family?

Anne: Well, we got a house across the street from them on Daugherty. They had had the rink, I guess, since it was built. We bought the business, not the building. And their kids were getting older. Their daughter was a senior and graduating, and their son had already left home. And that was Robert and Susan Gay, and Susan was the one I knew the most. Robert was already out of the house and gone, I believe, to college by the time that we came. And, you know, really that’s about all that I know about them.

And, I’ll tell you a funny thing. I came from Colorado, and we lived in Lakewood, which was right up next to the mountains. And I was whining about the heat, and she asked me one day, this was before school started, “Do you want to go to the mountains?” I said, “There’s mountains here?” She said, “Yeah.” And, so we drove up 2222 going to City Park, and I said, “So, when do we get to the mountains?” And, she said, “This is it.” [Laughs]

I said, “Where? These hills are the mountains? These aren’t even foothills.” But that was one of my fond memories of Susan taking me to the mountains. [Laughs]


Interviewer: You mentioned that your parents owned the Capitol Roll Arena, a roller skating rink on Brentwood Street in Austin. What were your parents’ names?

Anne: My father’s name is Calvin Blinton Palmer. He went by Cal. My mother was Lillian Frances Palmer. She went by Lilly or Lil.

Interviewer: And what was the roller skating rink like? What was the floor like, the music, the kids who came there?

Anne: Well, it had a wood floor, because back then all skating surfaces were wood. And it was big. The building is still there. It’s an auto mechanic shop now. When that first took over, I worried about the floor, because when you have a skating rink, you really take care of that floor. You keep it clean, with big brooms and wet sawdust, and every once in a while refinish it. You keep it nice, and you don’t want warps in it and things like that.

I was always in charge of the candy counter, all the years that we had a skating rink from when I was six up.  And, of course, we had popcorn and hot dogs and, you know, the usual. But we had a party room, so we had a lot of birthday parties there, and Saturday morning was always for the little kids. My dad always kept Saturday mornings for 10 and under and their parents, because he was really into teaching the little kids skating. And, we had just records for music. We were open in the evenings, and, you know, all weekend long we skated, and we also had classes going on. We had a boys’ and a girls’ roller hockey team when we first moved here.

And, there were classes going on. My oldest brother, Phil, moved here with us, and he was the pro. He had taught in Colorado Springs and other places. So, we taught dance skating and figure skating and freestyle, which is jumps and spins, and speed club, that sort of thing. Kids that were dedicated to that and would come and skate.

My brother ended up marrying Marlene Nixon, who grew up in the neighborhood and also skated. They both became skating pros and taught in Colorado Springs together. About all we did was work. My mom sold tickets, until she got sick and couldn’t do that anymore. My dad ran the rink.

Interviewer: What kinds of people came to the roller rink?

Anne: Lots of families, lots of local people, kids in the neighborhood would walk over. And, but we had kids from all over Austin, because back then it was the only place to skate, you know.

One of the most interesting groups that we had come was the state hospital. During the day, they would bring a group over in buses. And so, they would get out there, and I always had to get out there and lead the games. So, the hokey pokey was one everybody always wanted to do. And from the time I was little, until we left there, I don’t know how many times I did the hokey pokey. A hundred and fifty million, something like that. [Laughs] We did it morning, afternoon, nighttime.

But only a few of the people from the state hospital skated. Most of them got out there and danced to the music and, and got to have some refreshments, and it was a lot of fun, but they loved the hokey pokey. I could get them out there doing the hokey pokey. But, that was probably one of the most interesting groups, because you usually don’t have people out there dancing while there’s skating going on.

And we also had other private parties or church groups. Sometimes they’d rent it for a big birthday party. It was usually church groups that would come and rent the place for a whole party.

Interviewer: When we talked to Kay Swenson Ramsey, she mentioned the skating outfits her mother had made for her. Did many people have special outfits that they wore?

Kids that skated all the time, kids that were in classes and things like that, always had outfits. And, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts had a skating badge. When girls did that one of the things they did was make an outfit. They would always make it out of felt, and glue little things to it. And they were always down to their knees. Mine were always really, really short, because if you were a real skater, you wore really short. [Laughs]

So, my mom always made mine for all of the competition that I did. And I did every aspect of competition from speed skating to all of that. And my mother always made my costumes, and my brother’s. And my brother was quite good, the one that became a pro, and he went to nationals, which is the, you know, the whole country. I made it as far as regionals. That’s as far as I ever made it. [Laughs]

Interviewer: Before we leave the hokey pokey, is it really what it’s all about?

Anne: It is, it really and truly is. And, the great thing was, that we used to get down on our knees at the end and would go, “Hooookey pokey,” and then we’d bang on the floor, THAT’S WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT, YEAH! [Laughs] And, that is what it’s all about.


Interviewer: So, when you were a teenager in Austin, what did you do for fun in the neighborhood?

Anne: Well, mostly I roller-skated. I pretty much went to school and to the rink. But there were other times—one thing we used to do was to get out and go up to City Park. You know, that was the big deal, the big place to go. And, we liked to eat at Airport Haven, which was at Lamar and Airport and is no longer there. I was very sad when that went away, because I loved their hamburger and French fries.

Let’s see, what else did we do? I hung out with one of my good friends, who lived in the neighborhood, Donna Stephens at the time, Donna Swan now. And so, we hung out and ran around, but Burkhart’s was the big deal. That was our high school hangout. And, I believe it was there when I moved here in 1962. I don’t know for sure, but later it turned to Top Notch, you know. And then they built the Holiday House behind my house. It was a rival, but we didn’t go there much. We stuck to Burkhart’s [today’s Top Notch] when we hung out.

And, you know, one of the funniest things when I think of Austin today is that we had out senior bonfire at Denny McGraw’s house. Denny McGraw’s father was a doctor, and they lived way out in the country. They were the only house anywhere around, and we had this huge bonfire out there and a party, and it was at Parmer and Metric. The house is still there. I just think it’s so strange now, because it seems like it was so far away, back then. So, that’s the sort of things that we did.

One of my favorite memories of my dad was that, after the skating rink closed down, and we got everything shut down, we’d go over to Threadgill’s occasionally. And he’d drink a beer and we’d listen to Kenneth Threadgill sing, and I just loved the yodeling, you know. And they’d kind of help him up on that stage that was this high, you know, and sit him in a chair, and he’d just sing and sing, and sing. And I don’t remember food, but it was more of a bar back then. But, anyway, I always thought that great fun, time with my dad.

Interviewer: And, how would you describe this neighborhood when you lived here?

Anne: Well, it was really friendly, and people in the neighborhood seemed to know everybody. I didn’t know everybody, because I was stuck at the skating rink. But, everybody was friendlier back then, and easy. Kids could walk around the streets and play, and you never thought about any kind of criminal activity really, unless it was kids getting in trouble.

Interviewer: Did you go to church here in the neighborhood back then?

Anne: Well, mostly, up until I met my husband, and started going to church with him, my whole life, my whole life, Speed Club was on Sunday mornings, so my church was Speed Club. Anyway, but when I met him I started going to Brentwood Church of Christ, which was on Arroyo Seco back then. That’s where we were married. So, that’s the only church that I went to back then.

Interviewer: What would you say you miss most about Austin in the early 1960s when you first moved here?

Anne: Mostly the safety. You know, if there was ever a murder, it was, like, oh, my gosh. Now it’s every day. And there was no traffic. You could drive from South Austin to North Austin in 20 minutes.


Interviewer: How long did your parents own the rink?

Anne: Well, this one in Austin, we came in the summer of ’62, and they left in the fall of ’65 and went back to Denver, and I stayed here. Been here ever since.

Interviewer: And, why did your parents decide to move back to Colorado?

Anne: Well, one thing was my mom and her illness and she kind of wanted to be back with her family in Colorado. And the other was that this apparently—and I didn’t know this until many years later—they actually went bankrupt, because it was in ’64 when, you know, integration became a big issue. We came from Colorado where it was very intermixed, and we never had a problem letting anybody come skate. But apparently down here that was a problem. And, you know, we didn’t have a problem with it personally. Then apparently, groups started, you know, challenging places to see whether they’d really let them in or not. And so, they started coming skating, which was fine with all of us, and apparently that caused a problem with some of the other people, who quit skating. I didn’t know that. I was oblivious. I was eighteen 18, 19 years old. I was busy. I didn’t even notice that.

My father told me later that was part of what made it so bad. I can remember that they even had auctions at the skating rink to try to make money. They were letting an auction house come in and use it one night a week, to have an auction once a month. I don’t remember exactly, but I didn’t know that’s why they did it, until years later.


Interviewer: And your mother passed away at a fairly young age.

Anne: Well, she was 50 when she passed away. She had severe rheumatoid arthritis. Years after she had died they were doing research at UT on polio vaccine causing severe rheumatoid arthritis. So, they asked for her records and things. But when we first got here, I was 16, and we went to McCallum to get our sugar cube with the polio vaccine. And, within thirty days she just started deteriorating. And, she lost all her muscle tone. She couldn’t get out of bed by herself. She lived that way for seven years, and lived the last year of her life in the hospital. So, she suffered a lot from whatever that was, and that was a good part of why they ended up going back to Colorado.

It kind of amazes me now to think how much I took care of my mom, and I never thought about it then. You know, you just did what you did, and now I think back and I go, gosh, you know, I was just 16, 17, 18 years old. I doing a lot of caretaking for her, which never seemed like a problem to me at the time. Now, I think it was kind of amazing.


Interviewer: So, I was thinking maybe you could hold up this picture. What can you tell us about the man with the chicken on the top of his head?

Anne: Well, apparently, this is my father’s father. This is Thomas Jefferson Palmer, and this is a game cock, and apparently that’s how he made his money. I don’t know of any other information except that he had a whole other family, before he married my grandmother. That’s about all I know about him. And, he’s very scary looking.

Interviewer: That’s a great picture. And, what can you tell us about your ancestor who was part of the Trail of Tears?

Anne: Well, his wife, my grandmother, was Elizabeth; I think Bracken was her maiden name. But, she had been married for a while. She’s part Cherokee, apparently what they called a mixed blood back then. And her parents came from Tennessee, and I have some records where they were trying to identify the different people were related to the people who came in the Trail of Tears. The papers say they were moved by the federal government, and they were immigrants, which I find interesting, like they immigrated on their own. And, I know that my grandmother’s three oldest daughters from that time were more Cherokee, because she was first married to Donald Sandvan, who was a full-blood Cherokee. So, they are more Cherokee than the rest of us.


Interviewer: And, have you seen the mosaic wall we have down here? And, what do you think of it?

Anne: I love it! It was a tremendous amount of work, and a tremendous amount of coordination and organization, and I think it’s fabulous. There forever. How cool is that?

Interviewer: And, what would you say it says about our neighborhood to people who might not know about our neighborhood?

Anne: Well, I think it shows that it’s still a connected neighborhood. You know, that’s so rare for neighborhoods nowadays, to work together as a group. I think it’s amazing. I really do, and rare.


Interviewer: So, what did you learn from your experience working in the roller rink?

Anne: Well, I never got paid, so that has caused a problem for me. My lifetime is learning how to charge for the things that I do. But, I think I learned a lot about work ethic, you know. We worked day and night. I went straight from school to the skating rink, worked until late at night and did my homework standing up behind the candy counter. I learned about dedication and working as a group, as a family, so that has translated to any kind of job I’ve ever had.

I learned to make change at 6. I was very proud of that. And probably I was younger than 6, but 6 was when I took over pretty much handling it by myself, with a stool to stand on, so I could do the Cokes. [Laughs]

Interviewer: What would you say is your most challenging experience?

Anne: I think for me the biggest challenge was having to work so much, and not get to do a lot of the things that the other kids did. Because, it really was a rare occasion when I went off to the lake, or when I got to go to things. Being in the drill team was awesome. And, you know, it wasn’t ‘til I had children, where I really realized that my parents never came to a game to see me, because my father was working, and my mother was home and couldn’t get out. So, it never bothered me at the time, but now I think back how strange is that? But, you know, I think just the difficulty of, of working all the time, when other kids didn’t do that.

Interviewer: What would you say you are most proud of in your life?

Anne: Wow, there are a few things. I guess, my kids first of all. All of them are wonderful. So, if I think of it on that level, that’s what I’m most proud of.

And then, I’ve done classes and workshops in creativity and personal and spiritual development for about 30 years. I became a labyrinth facilitator for Veriditas, which is an organization that helps people learn about and build labyrinths. And, I’ve build 13 permanent labyrinths in Austin, around Austin, in East Texas, and up in Ohio. And, one thing I did for my own personal growth was in 2001. I walked the 500-mile pilgrimage across the top of Spain, called the Santiago de Compostela Camino, the way of Saint James. It took me 51 days. It was an amazing experience that is still teaching me today.

Interviewer: What did you learn from that experience?

Anne: Well, that life is one step at a time. And, there were moments when you go uphill a lot. But, you learn you can do anything in small doses. One of the main things you learn is that God is always there. It’s the most amazing thing. If you run out of water and you’re struggling along and you’re all alone on the trail and there’s no one around, you think, “Oh, what am I going to do?” I’ll be darn if somebody doesn’t show up and says, “Do you need some water?” If you’re in need, there’s always someone there to take care of it. You’re never alone, and that’s one of the many, many, many things that I learned on the Camino. Life is one step at a time.

Interviewer: And, what was that like to finish? When you got to the end of it?

Anne: A lot of tears. I was really amazed, because I wasn’t the skinniest, healthiest, strongest, youngest person doing it. And when you finally get to Santiago, you go to the cathedral there. People kind of converge, and more and more people are walking when you get that close, and we walked together into the little side chapel of the big cathedral, and that’s where we put other people’s prayers that we had carried with us.

Interviewer: So, what would you like for people to know most about you and the years you lived here in Austin?

Anne: So, I guess that this is home, but I love Austin. you know. It’s been a great place to grow up, because, you know, we keep growing up as we go, you know, we’re not grown up at 21, or as old as I am. But, it’s just a great place, I have so many friends and I’ve done such amazing, got to do so many amazing things. And I just think it’s a wonderful community, even though there’s too many people here now, for me, and the traffic’s too bad. There’s still all these pockets of that you can retreat into to have your own space and your own activities. And I think the freedom of being who you are in Austin is important, no matter who you are. There’s a place for you here.

We interviewed Anne Eagle Walker on September 4, 2011. A DVD of her videotaped interview is at the Austin History Center.

Susan Burneson

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