"Fellers, I served Butch his first ice cream cone at the pool room, and after that first lick, his eyes were as big as silver dollars!" . . . I guess that I listened to my barber, Slim Greve, tell that to his customers hundreds of times . . . in fact, almost every time he cut my hair. Now you might wonder why a barber would be serving ice cream in a pool hall. Well, the Darlington "pool room" was actually Wray's Cigar Store & Pool Hall, and it also housed a three chair barber shop in the back room. When Emil "Slim" Greve wasn't cutting hair, he also worked up front to help out the owner, Damon "Skeet" Wray when he was busy . . . or more likely . . . had gone fishing. I was 4 years old when I tasted that first ice cream cone in 1952.
For many years Darlington had a pool hall, which was a frequent stopping place for men in the community. The owner, Skeet Wray, was a very popular guy. He had served as one of the top officers in the local National Guard unit for many years, and he also owned the farm where my family lived. Whenever Dad went to town, which was almost every afternoon, I would hop in the back of our old Dodge pickup and go along for the ride. His usual stops were at the restaurant, drug store, service station and elevator, with his last visit to the pool room . . . to talk with Skeet, buy a pack of Chesterfield cigarettes, and hopefully pick up a game of pool with another fellow.
Dad was a very good pool player, and I watched him win quite a bit of money through the years. It was almost like a second income for him! A winner could also earn "pool chips," which could be wagered against others or used to buy items in the store. At times Dad would literally have hundreds of these 5 cent pool chips in his pockets. The pool room had two billiard tables in the middle section, with seats along the walls. In the front were showcases containing candy, cigars, and various other items. They also sold Glovers ice cream, snacks, and pop in glass bottles from a water-filled Coca-Cola cooler.
There were quite a few boys, mostly farm kids, who accompanied their fathers to the pool room. Youngsters were not allowed to play pool until they were 13 years old, but they could sit in the folding cushion chairs along the wall, watch the men play, and sip on a Coke and eat peanuts, after one turn of the nickel peanut dispenser. I will admit that there was "men-only adult language" spoken at times, along with many stories and jokes that likely would offend my Sunday school teachers at the Methodist church. But most of the time it was just good-natured kidding and teasing good friends and fellow customers.
When I was 6 years old, Skeet Wray passed away. Dad told me he suffered a sunstroke while working on a water pump back in our field. His wife, Bernice, decided to sell the pool hall. Some of the owners through the years were Lock Hankins, Haskell Renick, and Rufus and Bob Mullen. The barber shop in back also closed, and Slim Greve started his own barber shop just down the street. The back section made way for round wooden tables, where men played poker in the afternoons and evenings. I started mowing Mrs. Wray's lawn after her husband's death. She paid me $1 to mow the yard, and an extra 25 cents to sweep the sidewalk . . . and then go inside to have iced tea and cookies with her.
I had a great education at Darlington school, and I was well prepared for college at Purdue when I graduated in 1966. I even tested out of some classes, and it seemed like a natural progression from high school to college level academics. But I also received a great education in places like the pool room, along with the restaurant, service station, drug store, elevator and other "hang-outs." Yes . . . a different type of education. I learned how to not take life too seriously, how to have a sense of humor, how to relax after a hard day's work . . . and many other things that were not taught in school.
But the best thing was just being with my Dad and feeling like a grown-up . . . and yes, licking that first ice cream cone . . . in the old pool room.

John "Butch" Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 30 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.