By Gary Lloyd
The car battery in a 1996 Honda Civic tells her story.
About five years ago, Ruth Carter attempted to crank her car in the driveway of her Magnolia Place home in Trussville so she could drive the 2.5 miles to the Trussville PlayStation on Watterson Lane, a skating rink she owned.
Turning the car key prompted that clicking sound nobody likes to hear. The car’s battery was dead, and Carter didn’t cuss the vehicle, didn’t inconvenience a friend to pick her up, definitely didn’t skip work. Carter never skipped work. At age 87, Carter walked the 2.5 miles to the skating rink, up Barkwood Trace and Barkwood Cove, right onto Dawns Way, left onto Hawk Ridge Drive and across the Trussville Post Office area to PlayStation.
“It didn’t bother her a bit to get out there and walk up and down that road to get there,” said her youngest son, Phil Carter. “She was independent all the way through. She wouldn’t let anybody know anything she was doing, no history or anything like that.”
Carter died March 11. She was 92. Carter is survived by daughter Nancy, sons Donald and Phil, seven grandchildren, six great grandchildren and brother J.D. Alexander.
Carter was that dedicated to being at PlayStation, which opened in 1996. If the skating rink was open, Carter was there.
“If there was any way possible she could be here, she was,” said David Roper, PlayStation’s manager.
Carter’s link to skating rinks in Alabama dates back to 1959, when her husband, J.P. Carter, opened Rainbow Skating Rink in Gadsden. That rink relocated to Anniston in 1964 and Skate Haven opened in Roebuck in 1970. Other rinks the Carters opened included Valley Skate Center in Birmingham in 1972, Fun Times in Gardendale in 1974, Skate World in Hoover in 1976, Skate Palace in Irondale in 1982 and PlayStation in 1996.
J.P. Carter died in 1976, shortly before the Hoover rink was to open. Carter spent all her time at Skate Haven until it closed in the mid-1990s and at PlayStation since then. Carter was well known to the kids who skated the Roebuck rink in vintage white skates with yellow wheels, and to their kids who now skate the Trussville rink in an assortment of different roller blades and shoes that feature small wheels that appear in the heel area, like landing gear out of an airplane.
“That was her life, every day of the week,” said 59-year-old Phil. “She’d open the rink, run it and go home.”
Carter lived in Center Point until 2003, when she moved to the Magnolia Place neighborhood on the south end of Trussville. Prior to moving, she’d go to a local gym every day between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. to swim. If the water temperature wasn’t warm enough that early in the morning, gym employees would call Carter and tell her. Already on her way, she’d drive past the gym and go straight to PlayStation, where she’d stay all day.
She began work the same way every morning — grab the old dust mop and walk round and round and round the rink, a human Zamboni clearing filth as part of her exercise routine. Carter loved to exercise, telling family she’d take up smoking packs of Marlboro before she’d allow herself to get fat. She cleaned the bathrooms and hosed them down, advising other employees that it was her job, that she wanted to do it.
“Why she picked that, I have no idea,” Phil said.
Carter’s disciplined and independent work ethic came across to some as her being strict. While working the front window and taking up admission, she cautioned kids not to run in and out of the rink, quizzed them about what they learned in church the previous Sunday and got onto the ones who didn’t go.
“She wanted that place ran like it was supposed to be ran,” said Jane Bohlman, a Hewitt-Trussville graduate who worked at PlayStation during high school.
Carter used to grab the newspaper off the PlayStation parking lot in the mornings, too. About three or four years ago, though, she stopped. After picking up the paper one morning, she came into the rink, all bent out of shape. Phil asked what was wrong. She told him that a man drove up, asking if she was OK, if she was supposed to be in the parking lot snatching up a newspaper. The man thought she had run away from the Golden LivingCenter nursing facility on Watterson Parkway, an escapee of some jail for the elderly.
“She said, ‘He thought I had escaped,’” Phil said.
Most of the hundreds of thousands of kids she’s seen through the tiny admission window, though, knew of her kindness, of her giving pairs of $100 skates to kids who only had $20 to spend, of allowing kids to come skate who didn’t have the money for admission.
“She was real softhearted on that part,” Phil said.
A few years ago, Carter’s only job at PlayStation was to take up admission money and occasionally answer the phone. Two years ago, Carter moved in at Peachtree Assisted Living on the hill above PlayStation. Employees would pick her up in the morning and bring her to the rink, and take her home before it got too dark. She tried to convince employees to cut a trail between the assisted living center and the rink, so she could walk down every day, Roper said. Going to the rink, no matter the circumstances, was what “she always loved to do,” Phil said.
In August, Carter fell at the rink and broke her arm. She had to go to the hospital, a place she hadn’t been since Phil was born in 1953. She lived a healthy life and, frankly, didn’t want to go to the place where people undergo serious surgeries, where sometimes things seem so bleak.
“She did not believe in going to the hospital,” Phil said.
Carter’s independence is unrivaled. No, she didn’t like the hospital, but she went to the dentist with daughter Nancy two years ago to have two teeth pulled. Come to find out, she had already been herself, and had dentures. Her family didn’t know.
“It was shocking to me and my sister,” Phil said. “She was very independent.”
At her Magnolia Place home, she handled plumbing and landscaping herself the best she could. She was tight with her money, as those who grew up during the Great Depression are.
“There’s not a person out here that could live on what she lived on as far as money wise,” Phil said. “You’d think she didn’t have a dime to her name. She didn’t want anybody doing anything for her. She’d figure out how to do it herself, no matter what it was.”
Two cases in point: Carter practically lived on peanut butter. She’d eat it by the jar, and if empty Jif bottles were found on the rink’s front desk, in the cabinets and around the concession, you’d have known Carter was close by.
Carter’s home included a tiny gas insert in the fireplace. Instead of flipping on the heat in the winter, she’d bundle up at night, and when she woke up in the morning, she’d drink her coffee next to the heat emitted from the fireplace insert, to warm up. She kept the house just warm enough so that no pipes would burst. When she’d leave the house for PlayStation, because she didn’t have anywhere else in particular she wanted to go, she’d turn it off.
Carter always complained of being cold, so last month when she felt a little too chilly, she rolled her wheelchair at Golden LivingCenter toward a window that was soaked with sunshine. She slumped over while gazing at nearing springtime. It’s where she died.
“She’s definitely going to be missed,” Roper said
. “She was like the life of the party around here.”
Contact Gary Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.